Like many, I hold Nestle in fairly low regard, but somehow I had a perception of McVities being a bit more, well, trusted. It was a surprise therefore, as I strolled round my local convenience store, to find the Fairtrade logo on the products of the former but not the latter.
Of course, the Fairtrade logo is not the only ethical, sustainable shopping standard, but it is one of the most recognised and trusted in the world. Used by consumers as the simplest way of choice editing ones shopping habits, and by supermarkets as a way of demonstrating it is doing the right thing by its producers, Fairtrade has led the way in persuading people to pay a little more for a lot of good. It is also now raising the profile of its part in supporting the new Sustainable Development Goals, due to replace the Millennium Development Goals expiring at the end of this year. Read more here.
As an example I recently joined forces with Bristol's Fairtrade coordinator Jenny Foster to challenge a local coffee chain, Coffee#1, about it's fair trade policy. The Fairtrade logo is present in their coffee shops, but a closer look at their website reveals that although their coffee isn't certified, some of their other goods are. We wrote to their marketing team who replied:
'We continue to stock fair trade and organic products; fair trade products alone make up 7% of our range. All our coffee's are regionally sourced and the ethical stance can be traced back to the ethical practises of the raw coffee importers. The key difference here is that it is neither independent nor recognised to any international standards, however our importers adhere to their own strict Social Responsibility Code and it is this standard by which the "Ethically Traded" badge can be used. All of our suppliers of raw coffee have their own Social Responsibility programs'
I wonder whether the well-meaning staffs writing such statements (after all this could have almost any mainstream business' response) have the opportunity within their organisation to consider the link from their consumers to their producers then on to the achievement of the global sustainable development goals? Even if they have, they are likely to be at the mercy of their line managers who are almost certainly more focussed on short term profit than long term prosperity.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the effect of adopting fair trade practices as a corporate value can have a profound effect in helping to end global poverty, whether as a big supermarket or a local coffee shop or indeed a car manufacturer! It might be true that some customers are unable to afford Fairtrade goods where those goods are sold at a premium. In many cases I'm told, supermarkets are now absorbing the real costs of production into the supply chain to offer fairly traded goods such as coffee, chocolate & bananas at the same price. This isn't a question of costs as much as it is a about profit - there are plenty of places in Bristol where you can get a fairly traded cup of coffee for the same price as a non-Fairtrade one.
We shouldn't need a Fairtrade logo - it should just be the way business is done. The cost to society and the environment of NOT paying the appropriate amount for food is ultimately going to be borne by us all. In the meantime, buying fair trade goods is one of the best ways you can do your bit for the soil, the farm workers and their families. And who knew, you can also help do your bit for the UN sustainable development goals.