A black day for Fairtrade?
Joe is a guest blogger – all the views expressed are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Fairtrade London Campaign.
In the battle for ethical trading, Monday 7 December will go down as Black Monday – the day when the Fairtrade Foundation finally lost all credibility. In the headlong rush to certify everything that moves the Fairtrade Foundation, Britain’s self-proclaimed guardian of all things Fairtrade, gave Nestlé the ethical pass it so desperately wanted. I shudder to even type the words: The Fairtrade Kit-Kat. Yes, that biscuit coated in the most sickly chocolate has finally burst through the winning tape. But only the four-fingered version, you’ll understand. The two-fingered version can continue being made by children and slaves in the Cote d’Ivorie. Four fingers good, two fingers bad. Though apparently they will also certify the two-fingered version. At some point in the undefined future.
The problem is not really that multinational brands are interested in the Fairtrade mark, because that is what it is for, in the sense that many consumers want the multinationals to improve their purchasing policy. The problem is when the brand behind the label is so notorious and when the act of certifying devalues all those smaller brands who will inevitably lose out against the world’s biggest food multinational. Brands, don’t forget, who were the originators of the Fairtrade concept.
Cocoa is an odd product. According to the charity Trading Visions in October of this year, the world price for cocoa hit a 24 year high of over $3000 per tonne which is almost twice the Fairtrade minimum of $1600 a tonne. Hence it is clearly not so difficult to pay the farmer exactly what you would pay him otherwise and still claim it is Fairtrade. A marvellous bit of double-speak.
The Cote d’Ivorie is said to produce more than 40% of the world cocoa crop with the farmers representing some of the most exploited people on the planet. Child slavery is rampant. Low wages are widespread. Using the Fairtrade system as a sticking plaster on one of the planet’s most notorious, most ruthless and most profitable multinationals is, quite simply, a disgrace.
To access the Fairtrade system, producers have to prove their ethics. They must be co-operatives and must meet rigorous standards. Standards that, strangely, do not apply to the multinationals. Co-operatives have to show they are whiter than white otherwise they can be assessed and have to withdraw from the system, excluding the very groups which started the process. Multinationals do not even have to show a commitment to Fairtrade.
Those multinationals can use Fairtrade as an ethical crutch – deceiving consumers to the extent of their ethical credentials whilst continuing with their ways with more than 90% of all the raw materials they buy. Nestle uses 370,000 tonnes of cocoa a year. The Fairtrade Kit-Kat deal represents 4,300 tonnes of cocoa. Just over 1% of Nestlé chocolate will be Fairtrade.
Nestlé are not doing it from the goodness of their heart. They are doing it because they think they can extract some positive feelings from people of goodwill and at the same time hoodwink us from the reality of the way they do business.
Acting as some kind of perverse PR machine for a succession of the world’s worst food multinationals, the Fairtrade Foundation seems to relish the challenge of persuading us that black is actually white. According to their Press Release on the Kit-kat decision, “The public will be cheering this groundbreaking move taking Fairtrade further into the mainstream”. Woo.hoo. Shame on Nestlé and shame on the Fairtrade Foundation.
Joe Turner is an activist and a maverick, seeking to think about and act upon issues to do with development, trade and justice. For five years, Joe ran a small clothing company struggling to work with manufacturers in the occupied West Bank, in the process learning about the cotton industry, Fairtrade, organic and other certification schemes. He is now interested to contemplate the post-Fairtrade landscape and the failings of the current system.