Steve writes . . . It’s not Fair-trade, Sainsbury’s

The Fairtrade Foundation was formed in 1992 and its members include Christian Aid, CAFOD, Tearfund, Global Justice Now and Traidcraft (the latter was an idea of students from my previous church in Durham).

The Foundation has been working tirelessly for years to educate us about the unfairness of trade which rewards multi-national companies but refuses to give farmers and other producers from the developing world a fair deal for the goods they produce for us. It’s been a highly successful campaign which has led to towns like Faringdon embracing Fairtrade status, to shops like our own Mustard Seed championing Fairtrade and to nearly 80% of British consumers being able to recognise the Fairtrade logo. The Fairtrade mark is the gold standard of ethical trading and the world’s most trusted and best-known food certification scheme.

Now, however Sainsbury’s are changing a system which has worked well for 25 years for both poor farmers and large supermarkets. They are no longer labelling their own brand teas as ‘Fairtrade’ but will call them ‘fairly traded’. Sainsbury’s are setting up their own in-house certification scheme and its own ethical standards. They are also changing the ‘social premium’ which is money that Fairtrade provides to farmers on top of the guaranteed minimum price they get for their produce. This money normally goes direct to the farmers who agree to spend it on social schemes such as pensions, sick pay or education which they themselves choose and control. Now Sainsbury’s is to decide how this money is used. Producers feel betrayed and that their rights are being taken away. It feels like colonialism and that Sainsbury’s want to control them. The danger is that Sainsbury’s may remove the Fairtrade mark from other products like their bananas and coffee and this could lead to wholesale withdrawal of goods marked Fairtrade in other supermarkets too.

The consequence of Sainsbury’s action is likely to be lower social and labour standards, more hardship in developing countries and real confusion among consumers. The Bible is very clear that we should deal fairly with others, especially the poor – for example see Amos 8:4-7 and Isaiah 3:14-15.

You might like to sign a petition objecting to Sainsbury’s rejection of the Fairtrade mark at fairtrade.org.uk or change.org or you might ask a local Sainsbury’s manager why they are making changes which will make things harder for poor producers when Fairtrade has worked so well for a quarter of a century.

Yours in Christ,

Steve