Why Sainsbury’s Abandonment of Fairtrade is Not Okay.

So Sainsbury’s are planning to move some of their teas – their own brand Red Label, Gold Label, extra strong and green – from being Fairtrade certified to being a part of the Sainsbury’s Foundation Fairly Traded range. It sounds like a minor thing. Why am I writing a blog about something like that?

Because this is not a minor thing.

It *looks* like nothing’s really changing except the little icon they’ll print on the packaging – it’s still all fair ‘n’ ethical, right? But what the Sainsbury’s Foundation proposes is not comparable to the Fairtrade standards – in fact, the Fairtrade Foundation, having consulted with tea farmers in Africa, have decided not to be a partner of the Sainsbury’s Foundation.

This is not the Fairtrade Foundation throwing a strop (after all, Sainsbury’s did ask them to be a partner of the Sainsbury’s Foundation). Having looked into the new proposals, they’re just not happy with them and aren’t willing to compromise their standards. One big problem that the tea farmers were unhappy about is the fact that they will no longer have control over all the money they earn.

Under Fairtrade principles, communities earn a Fairtrade Premium – a sum of money (that they have earned by producing and selling things, not a charitable donation) on top of the minimum Fairtrade price, that gets spent by the community for the good of the community – it’s for stuff like sending children to school, investing in business equipment or training, improving local sanitation, and all that sort of thing.

Under the Sainsbury’s Foundation, this money will be hoarded by a a board of people in London – far, far removed from the realities of daily life in the farming communities of Africa – and communities will have to jump through hoops to access their own money, with this London-based board of suits determining what they may spent their money on, or even if they may have access to *their own money* at all.

Would you be cool if a chunk of your wages was kept from you by some random people you’d never met, with no clue about your needs or your life, who then told you what you were allowed to spend it on or simply not let you access it at all? No, me either.

This is just a move to disempower farming communities, placing layers of bureaucracy between them and their own money (I can’t say often enough how this money actually belongs to the farming communities who grew and harvested a bunch of tea in order to earn it). It’s not right for Sainsbury’s to keep hold of any part of their supplier’s wages, and it’s also not acceptable for them to try to control the growth and development of entire communities by doing so. A retailer should not have that much social control over an entire community. Call me paranoid if you like, but the more I think about it, the more I see the potential for some really sinister social engineering.

Fairtrade is *proven*. They’ve been going for twenty years and that’s plenty of time to get data together to prove weather your policies work or not. I’m not saying that innovative new ideas should never be trialed, but not without the willing consent of the producers (please remember that Sainsbury’s producers are not happy about these changes, especially the lack of access to part of their wages) and not without the clear understanding that it’s a trail to see if improvement can be made, and that if it’s not successful then proven methods will be returned to. This is not what the Sainsbury’s Foundation is doing at all. In fact, they have made it clear that this ‘small’ change (is any change that affects 229,224 people really small?) is just the thin end of the wedge – they hope to eventually extend this scheme to other products.

This all just feels like such a big step backwards for fair trading between ‘developed’ and ‘undeveloped’ countries. A huge supplier like Sainsbury’s backing out of Fairtrade is just…I can’t believe them. If this issue strikes a chord with you, it would be really awesome if you could write to Sainsbury’s about it so that they know customers aren’t happy and won’t be buying their ‘fair trade’ products.

Further reading;






Fairtrade pic


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