By Emily Pearce, Fairtrade Officer

Our commitment to sourcing and selling ethical products is more important than ever.

Back in 2009, we began exploring how we could responsibly source BBQs and charcoal products. We partnered with Traidcraft, a UK based fair trade organisation, to help us source and sell Fair Trade Charcoal and BBQ products from Namibia in our stores. Fair Trade is a global movement that stands for and represents trade that is fair, whereby producers in developing countries achieve better trading conditions including a fair wage to improve their livelihoods and their communities.

Produced in Namibia, the fairly-traded charcoal provides vital employment for over 1000 charcoal burners who travel around vast tracts of farmland, chopping back invasive acacia bushes to recover unproductive farmland. They then use iron kilns to turn FSC wood into charcoal. Namibia has been severely affected by climate change, suffering from devastating droughts since 2013. This meant that much of the traditional work, such as farming and agriculture, has ceased because crops and animals can’t survive. Charcoal production provides farmers and workers with another essential income source. However, the country is still very poor and working conditions are hard.

The fairly traded status ensures fair wages and good working conditions for charcoal burners and factory workers, who also receive a social premium to help fund community projects. The producers democratically decide how to spend the money for the benefit of the community.

Supporting people and communities

We sell BBQ and charcoal products every year from April to September, sales of which help generate a Fair Trade Premium for workers in Namibia. In 2019, we sold over 800,000 BBQs and charcoal items. This generated over £76,000 (which is around $1.2m Namibian Dollars) of Fair Trade Premium to support communities in Namibia.

The Fair Trade premium helps fund essential projects including: providing hospital shelters and water taps for factory workers, housing and supplies for charcoal burners, buying school books for children in local communities and providing essential funds to invest in local secondary schools.

Like the rest of the world, Namibia has been affected by coronavirus. Though infection rates have been low, this is due to swift enforcement of lockdown by the Namibian government including roadblocks to stop people from moving between villages. However, the economic impact to livelihoods due to lockdown has been high.

In times like these, the Fair Trade Premium has provided the community with vital funds to support themselves through the crisis. The Fair Trade Premium Committee has decided to use the Premium funds generated through the sale of our products for emergency relief including:

  • Essential food and supplies to charcoal burners at two Fair Trade farms
  • A loan scheme to non-Fair Trade farmers to cover food costs of burners on their farms
  • Emergency food parcels, soaps and sanitisers to Jumbo factory employees in Okahandja and Walvis Bay – check out the video below covering the handouts on the local news
You can also use this link to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0gjLdYpVuU

The work continues

Over 10 years have passed since we launched Fair Trade charcoal in partnership with Traidcraft in 2009 and we’re still the only retailer in the world to sell Fair Trade charcoal. We’ve witnessed the impact that Fair Trade offers to producers in Namibia and how it bolsters the community when tough times strike.

Our commitment remains the same – we’ll continue to work with Traidcraft to support famers through charcoal sales this summer. In addition, our buyers have also agreed that if we do run out of Co-op branded products this season and have to draw from our supplier Rectella’s branded stock, the Fair Trade premium will be maintained and we’ve already seen this temporary substitution happening on some of our products.

So, if you’re BBQ-ing this summer (perhaps with some of products from our new range), consider the impact and the difference you can make to people’s lives, just by choosing to buy Co-op Fair Trade BBQs and charcoal.