By Jo Whitfield, Chief Executive, Food

Back in October 2019, I had the incredible pleasure of travelling over 6,000 miles to join some of our wonderful Fairtrade flower and tea producers in Kenya. I spent four days immersed in Fairtrade communities, gaining insight into the lives of our producers and having conversations about Fairtrade. I learnt so much, and I’d love to share my thoughts with you in the video below:

In October, we celebrated an amazing 25 years of supporting Fairtrade. Co-op’s 99 Tea was the UK’s very first Fairtrade retailer own brand tea, and now we’re the largest convenience retailer of Fairtrade products. The past 25 years has been a pioneering collaboration with Fairtrade which we’re excited to continue to support and grow into the future.

Next week marks the beginning of Fairtrade Fortnight 2020; an annual moment where we come together to share stories of people behind the products we love, people who – without Fairtrade – are often exploited and underpaid. Fairtrade changes lives; we’re celebrating with them by giving our Fairtrade producers a voice, so that they can tell our colleagues, customers and members what Fairtrade means to them and the impact they make by choosing our amazing Fairtrade products.

Why Fairtrade is important

Life for workers in Kenya is a stark contrast to what we are used to. A usual working week can be up to 6 days, and some people work up to 54 hours a week.

It can be incredibly hard for people to earn enough money to make a real living. People are often exploited, underpaid and treated unfairly because companies want to keep bigger margins and profits.

That’s why Fairtrade is so important. Fairtrade ensures workers get independently set prices for their products, therefore they’re protected if the market prices ever drops. This means they always get a fair price for their goods. This is because those of us who shop consciously and buy Fairtrade products can give producers a real sense of dignity in the work they do.

We’re proud to have been at the forefront of the Fairtrade movement since it launched in 1994, we’re committed to continue co-operating for a fairer world through Fairtrade in 2020 and beyond.

Get involved

Our message is simple: by simply choosing Fairtrade you’re supporting real people. You’re helping producers get paid fairly. You’re giving producers control over their future, and you’re doing the right thing for people and the planet. Simply put, you’re helping change lives.

Co-op was founded to do business differently. Co-operation is the behaviour we all need to demonstrate to help shape the communities and world we want to live in the future. I would love to see every single colleague continue to champion and celebrate Fairtrade as one of the key differences of our Co-op and how it’s the gold standard of any other certification.

We’ll be shining a light on some inspirational people over Fairtrade Fortnight, and I’d love to hear more from everyone about why Fairtrade is important to you. Please let me know in the comments below and on Yammer. Don’t forget to help me celebrate Fairtrade Fortnight with your friends, colleagues and members via Social Hub.

Did you know:

  • We’re the UK’s largest convenience seller of Fairtrade products
  • We put the UK’s first Fairtrade bananas on our shelves in 2000, and we were the first UK retailer to sell Fairtrade bananas in all our stores by 2012
  • We were the first retailer to make all our coffee Fairtrade in 2003
  • We were the first retailer to make all our Co-op Easter eggs Fairtrade in 2016

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. I have bought Fairtrade goods for many years and have been more than willing to pay a bit extra to support workers in countries like Kenya. But I’m starting to see sharp criticism online of Fairtrade from credible sources, e.g. Genevieve LeBaron at Sheffield University (see

    In brief, she studied forced labour in supply chains and found little difference between suppliers who had Fairtrade certification and those who didn’t: “The ethical certification schemes in our study set standards on workers’ rights, health and safety, debt, wages and basic services that employers are supposed to follow. However, we found that employers routinely violate or ignore these standards.”

    She and her colleagues argue that Fairtrade schemes typically represent the interests of development agencies and businesses in rich countries much more than they do those of groups in producer countries. In particular, there needs to be more representation of trades union groups from the producer countries, as they can observe whether the standards are being upheld or not.

    It may be that the Co-op ensures higher standards than many other retailers. I think that is likely, given how long the Co-op has been supporting Fairtrade initiatives and how they reflect the Co-operative Principles. But it’s important that we don’t rest on our laurels and that we can show that our Fairtrade claims are credible and not just ‘fairwashing’.

    • Hi Alan – thanks for sharing these important points. You’re correct that it’s important to be vigilant of the issues producers face in global supply chains and to ensure that impact is credible.

      Whilst there is a growing number of certification schemes that have producer wellbeing as part of their agenda, Fairtrade is truly reflective of the Co-op’s founding Values and Principles. We have witnessed the impact of Fairtrade over many years through the minimum price and premium mechanisms, and remain committed to its ongoing development, as producers have consistently told us that Fairtrade is the best of the certification schemes for them. For this reason, Co-op has championed Fairtrade for 25 years and it remains a core focus of our Future of Food 2030 ambition going forward.

      Independent studies and research evidence a number of significant areas of impact from Fairtrade, especially economic impact, but also improvements in human rights and other issues. Fairtrade is a learning organisation, so as well as noting positive findings, learning and challenges from research are used to strengthen Fairtrade’s interventions and support policy dialogue with stakeholders. In summary:
      • Where applicable, the Fairtrade Minimum Price has been shown to increase household income and stability and has served as a safety net against price volatility. Fairtrade is the most effective at delivering a greater share of the economic value in the supply chain.
      • The Fairtrade Premium enables investments in income-boosting and production-enhancing activities. Premium-funded services from cooperatives can also reduce production costs for individual farmers. For example, in the Colombian banana sector, cooperatives are investing a substantial part of the Premium in developing on-farm productivity and lowering banana production costs. This helps farmers save money. Studies also confirm that Fairtrade has succeeded in increasing the level of credit available to farmers.
      • The Fairtrade Premium has improved producers’ standard of living through investments in school fees, healthcare, credit, training, food safety, certification fees, and diversity of food sources. Income security problems in producer households have been lessened as a result.
      • Fairtrade is the only certification that strengthens the bargaining power of collective organizations. By making the collectivization of producers a prerequisite to establishing a Fairtrade supply chain, producers are no longer isolated and their bargaining power is stronger.
      • The Fairtrade Mark continues to be well recognised and trusted by our members and customers and we believe that its independence assurance through FLOCERT is critical to its success.

      However, many producers are trading only a small amount of their goods on Fairtrade terms, which means they don’t get the Fairtrade Minimum Price and Fairtrade Premium on their conventional trade. We need more organisations to commit to Fairtrade to accelerate the impact for producers around the world.

      Our Fairtrade team work closely with Fairtrade Foundation and our suppliers to understand challenges and opportunities our supply chain. Visits are conducted regularly to Fairtrade producers and in 2019 alone we conducted seven visits to Fairtrade producers and communities – hearing directly from them the impact Fairtrade has. Please do see our webpages for more information.

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