Mondelēz International have chosen to pull the Fairtrade label from all Cadbury branded products. Are we witnessing the beginning of the end for the movement?
In 1997, the formation of FLO International brought ‘Fair Trade’ labelling to shops for the first time. Later rebranded as Fairtrade International, it was recognised as the global leader in fair trade standards and labelling.
Since that time, hundreds of organisations have hosted the Fair Trade label on their products. While the labelling was voluntary, organisations and the general public viewed this movement as a great step forward for developing countries.
However, in the past week, Mondelēz International have taken the decision to bring all of its fair trade policies in house. And it’s left many people wondering about the future of the movement in its current state.
What is Fairtrade?
Fairtrade is just as it sounds. The aim of the movement is to create better working and living conditions for farmers and workers in developing countries. This includes paying better prices for crops (which don’t fall below the market price), and embedding local sustainability.
Crops range from coffee and cocoa, to bananas and cotton. It also includes products you might not immediately link to it, like flowers, gold and wine.
Some facts and figures around the movement are (courtesy of the Fairtrade Foundation):
- More than 1.65 million farmers and workers work for Fairtrade certified organisations
- 56 per cent of these farmers grow coffee
- There are 1,226 certified Fairtrade organisations across 74 countries
- $106.2 million was paid to Fairtrade producers in 2013-14
- 26 per cent of all farmers and workers in the organisations are female
- Organisations invested 31 per cent of their Fairtrade premiums on productivity or quality improvements; 26 per cent was invested in education
The movement has clearly helped millions of farmers and workers around the world, giving them a better deal for their crops. And, as social consciousness has grown, so have consumer tastes for Fairtrade products.
The UK is one of the largest markets in the world for Fairtrade products. In 2012 (more recent figures are hard to come by), UK consumers spent more than £1.3 billion on these goods.
Is It Really Fair?
However, unfairly or otherwise, the movement has been dogged by criticism about how fair it actually is. As far back as 2007 (and beyond), critics were questioning how good a deal these farmers and workers were getting.
Some critics have argued that by being affiliated with the movement, farmers are actually limiting their markets. Others have argued that it doesn’t account for mechanisation in production and doesn’t give the opportunity to improve production processes.
And a report in 2014 by the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London raised concerns that some workers were actually earning less than non-Fairtrade workers.
Some products don’t quality for Fairtrade labelling, and specialist brands are likely to miss out. Additionally, it’s often difficult for farmers to join the movement, with fees and a lack of organisation frequently cited.
And despite its position in the public eye, Fairtrade isn’t the only organisation offering this service. The Rainforest Alliance is one such organisation, but perhaps suffers from being less well-known.
Companies Changing Strategies
All of which brings us back to the change about to be undertaken by Mondelēz with its Cadbury brands. The global organisation plans to bring all of its certification in-house, under its ‘Cocoa Life‘ fair trade scheme.
While the company maintains that the move won’t impact the percentage of fair trade products it produces, it’s raising concerns about the future of the Fairtrade movement.
When Cadbury joined Fairtrade in 2009, it prompted many of its competitors to do likewise. Critics are concerned that its move away from Fairtrade might see other organisations follow suit. There are concerns that ethical standards may drop, even although Fairtrade will continue to monitor Cadbury’s work.
The company has committed to ensuring that its supply chains retain the protection they currently have. And even Fairtrade International have welcomed the move, seeing it as a company taking accountability for its supply chain and sustainability efforts.
Whether this ultimately means the end for Fairtrade is unclear. It’s highly unlikely that the movement will cease to be, but it may have to change to remain relevant. Public social consciousness will only increase, and manufacturers will need to be able to prove the transparency and legitimacy of their supply chains.
In that respect, whether it’s in-house, or done by an external NGO, sustainability labelling will continue to exist. And Fairtrade will still be seen as the cornerstone in the movement.
What do you think about the move by Mondelēz? Do you think it will make a major difference? Let us know in the comments below.
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