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Thoughts on Kit-Kat going Fairtrade

December 17th, 2009 1 comment

Why just Kit Kat, why not everything? Either you’re ethical, or you’re not.

Sue Acton at Bubble & Balm has said…’the separation of product and company is a risk to the integrity of Fairtrade, and therefore that any company that wants to certify a product should also have to meet some generic minimum standards about their entire business as a pre-requisite to obtaining individual product approval’.

I agree with this, what do you think?

KitKat goes Fairtrade – a campaigner's view.

December 9th, 2009 Comments off

Most of the negative comments here seem to come from people who know very little about the Fairtrade certification system. Thus we have elementary misunderstandings such as the Fairtrade Foundation shouldn’t endorse/validate Nestle. The certifier is FLO, and only products are certified, not companies: there is a big difference. Many companies have only 1 or 2 Fairtrade products.

If a product totally complies with the certification requirements, it would be wrong not to certify it; it does not indicate endorsement of the whole company. Personally I prefer not to buy Nestle products but Kit Kat is the UK’s most popular chocolate biscuit product; millions are sold all the time. Is it not a good thing that these, which would be sold anyway, are now to be Fairtrade? There is something egocentric and parochial about relating everything to one’s own buying habits instead of considering the wider picture.

The big picture is that babies in the developing world are dying in their thousands all the time for numerous reasons, of which poverty is the main one. We need to address this in various ways, and economic development via trade is essential. As much as possible of that trade should be fair. Who is to say that, albeit slowly, most large companies won’t start to have Fairtrade products – and then more Fairtrade products. In my view this is starting and I don’t criticise companies for moving in the right direction.

Jeannette’s comments first appeared on the Fairtrade Foundation site – you can read further comments here.

The full press release on Kit-Kat bars going Fairtrade is here.

Fairtrade Kit Kats and mainstreaming Fairtrade: Pros and Cons

December 8th, 2009 6 comments

This week we have heard some of the most controversial news in the Fairtrade world for a long time: Nestlé’s four-finger Kit Kat bars will bear the FAIRTRADE Mark from January 2010. This news has instantly stirred up a long-running debate about whether and under what circumstances large multinational corporations that have dubious business practices should be allowed to take part in the Fairtrade system.

It is important to look both at the pros and cons of this news about Nestlé and Kit Kat, to better understand whether it is something that Fairtrade supporters should be celebrating or condemning.

The facts
Firstly, what are the facts? Nestlé has decided use Fairtrade cocoa and sugar in its four finger Kit Kat bars, and the Fairtrade Foundation has authorised the use of the FAIRTRADE Mark on the bars. The change affects only the four finger bars, not two finger Kit Kats or any other Nestlé products, and it will also only apply to the UK and Ireland.

Nestlé has stated that they hope to make the rest of their Kit Kat bars, as well as other products, Fairtrade within the next few years, subject to availability of high-quality Fairtrade cocoa. However, they also made similar promises about their Fairtrade coffee after creating the Partner’s Blend which were never followed up on.

The Pros
The move to certify Kit Kat bars has some very clear benefits. The change will affect more than 8,000 cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire, an undeniably poor country where producers depend heavily on the cocoa crop. The Fairtrade sales to Nestlé will bring in an extra $150 a tonne, 4 per cent above the $3,384 world price. This extra is the Fairtrade premium, which producer cooperatives will use to help support their communities however they choose – literacy and access to schools is a major issue in the areas of Côte d’Ivoire that will take part. In addition, the farmers will be guaranteed a good price even if the world price falls, as well as gaining long-term contracts and access to loans that help keep incomes and life more stable. Sugar producers in Belize will also get the same benefits. 

It seems clear that for producers, on an individual and community level, there will be real benefits. The change will also raise the profile of Fairtrade in general, and hopefully inspire more companies to take part. This is part of the Fairtrade Foundation’s strategy of “Tipping the balance,” aiming at making trade work for the majority of producers around the world. Only with significant increases in Fairtrade sales (and/or major changes to global trade policy), will trade move from benefitting the few, to having a genuinely positive impact on the majority.

The Cons – Nestlé
However, there are also a lot of negative aspects of this change, and critics of the decision have some compelling arguments. There are many concerns specific to Nestlé as a corporation, including a  very problematic history of using child labourers, and marketing baby milk products to families in the developing world and thus supplanting the practice of breastfeeding, which has led to health problems and even death for babies. Many people boycott Nestlé’s products, some of whom are now wondering whether they should agree to buy Fairtrade certified Kit Kats. For many, it is hard to see how certifying a small fraction of its cocoa as Fairtrade can in any way change people’s opinions of a company that continues to take part in disreputable practices throughout the rest of its business.

The Cons – Mainstreaming Fairtrade
These concerns bring up the larger question of whether Fairtrade ought to work with “mainstream” corporations that do not uphold all the values Fairtrade stands for. When you buy cocoa that was farmed according to Fairtrade standards, but ship, process, and market it in using exploitative or unsustainable practices, doesn’t that diminish the meaning of the FAIRTRADE Mark? Some companies (include companies like Divine Chocolate and Cafédirect) embody Fairtrade values in all their practices, and many people think Fairtrade should really only include companies like these, or press less committed corporations to uphold the highest standard of business ethics.

Your views on this matter will depend on what you think Fairtrade ultimately should be. Should it be the ideal model of fair trade and justice, working only with companies that meet this standard? Or should it be a step in the right direction that has some real benefits for the poor, working with imperfect corporations because of the positive impact on producers?

What the FAIRTRADE Mark Means
It is worth remembering that the FAIRTRADE Mark as it stands is simply a guarantee about how something was made at the producer level. It doesn’t pass judgement on a company as a whole, or make any statements about wider business practices. And if it did, it would be a whole different kettle of fish, one that would be more complicated, more expensive to take part in, and quite possibly off putting to most mainstream corporations. Some may see a more extensive set of criteria as a better way – but we should remember that the Mark doesn’t  promote a whole corporation.

The Role of Campaigners
In the end, perhaps the way forward is for Fairtrade supporters and campaigners to pledge that, no matter what products and companies carry the FAIRTRADE Mark, our role should always be to press for more. As long as expectations continue to rise, we can celebrate the current benefits of Fairtrade for producers, while those who want to see Fairtrade mean even more can continue working to expand its meaning and role. Our efforts in London can then not only support positive steps, but be part of a continuous push for Fairtrade to have the best possible impacts on producers and on wider global business practices.

This post is part of a larger discussion about mainstreaming Fairtrade, hosted by Shared Interest. Click here to read more.