Fairtrade Foundation appeals to generous Brits as sales top £140 million

Related tags Fairtrade Fair trade

Sales of food and drink products carrying the Fairtrade mark in the
UK reached £140 million in 2004, more than 50 per cent more than in
the year before, but this year's Fairtrade Fortnight will seek to
push this figure higher still by highlighting the economic plight
of many food producers, writes Chris Jones.

With some 834 products certified by the UK Fairtrade Foundation, compared to just 150 in 2003, ethically traded goods can now be found in most of the major supermarket chains. This shift away from niche retailers and into the mainstream is driving not only sales of the products themselves but also a greater awareness of the economic problems facing many food producers in the developing world.

Tomorrow (1 March) sees the start of the annual Fairtrade Fortnight in the UK, and the Fairtrade Foundation will this year seek not only to highlight the variety of products available but also to underline the economic reasoning behind the whole Fairtrade movement.

"The relentless roller coaster of fluctuating commodity prices can have the same catastrophic effect on the lives of farmers and workers in the developing world as a natural disaster like a tsunami,"​ the Fairtrade Foundation said.

"Disastrous troughs in world prices for agricultural goods, alongside the long-term downward price trend, are devastating the lives of families and rural communities as farmers struggle to make a living from their land. The impact may be more gradual, but the spiralling effects of falling prices and loss of income can lead to under-employment, economic and physical hardship, homelessness, forced migration, and life-threatening poverty and disease."

This year's Fairtrade Fortnight will run under the banner 'Check Out Fairtrade' and is designed to once again raise awareness of Fairtrade-certified foods through a series of events (some 7,500 in total) and in-store promotions.

"The catastrophic falls in the prices of major commodities - of coffee, tea, bananas, cotton, rice and sugar - are tearing apart lives across the developing world,"​ said Harriet Lamb, executive director of the Fairtrade Foundation. "People are forced to give up their farms, to become labourers or city slum dwellers or to take their children out of school.

"These economic disasters are all the more shocking because they are not unstoppable natural disasters; this is not the force of nature unleashed in all its fury. These are man-made disasters, entirely preventable and worse still, they carry on even though everyone knows what the effects will be."

She added: "The British public showed overwhelming generosity towards the people affected by the tsunami. In the same way, when they learn about Fairtrade and the positive benefits for farmers in the developing world, the response is equally dramatic, with millions now choosing to buy products with the Fairtrade Mark and make sure the farmers gain guaranteed benefits."

According to the Fairtrade Foundation, core products such as coffee, tea, bananas and chocolate remain the most popular among Britian's ethical shoppers, but newer products, such as flowers, wines, oils and even footballs have helped raise public awareness and stimulate growth.

Coffee continues to be the biggest seller when it comes to UK Fairtrade sales, with the estimated retail value of sales growing from £13.7 million in 1998 to £34.3 million in 2003 and £49.3 million in 2004. Bananas are next on £30.6 million (up from £24.3 million in 2003 and from £7.8 million in 2000) followed by chocolate (£13.6 million in 2004, up from £9.2 million in 2003) and tea (£12.9 million in 2004, up from £9.6 million in 2003).

A 2004 MORI poll showed that the number of people who recognised the Fairtrade Mark had doubled to 39 per cent since 2002, while for those who buy Fairtrade products, 86 per cent said the independent guarantee of the Mark was important. Fairtrade sales are more than doubling every two years and all major supermarket chains now sell Fairtrade products, along with many smaller stores.

Some, like the Co-op, have introduced whole ranges of Fairtrade products under their own labels, while others have given greater shelf space to existing ranges, but all have been happy to highlight their apparent ethical credentials.

"It's so quick and easy for shoppers to choose products with the FAIRTRADE Mark, and yet the difference this makes to producers can be dramatic,"​ said Lamb.

"The Fairtrade system demands huge efforts from farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America as they organise into democratically run groups and implement changes in agricultural practice. This ensures that the gradual improvements which Fairtrade makes possible are sustainable, giving communities a real chance to build a brighter future."

Under the Fairtrade system, farmers receive a fair and stable price for their products, which are produced with greater respect for the environment. In a world increasingly dominated by multinational food companies, Fairtrade also gives small-scale farmers a chance to gain a stronger position in world markets.

Perhaps most importantly for the future of Fairtrade, however, the system also provides a closer link between consumers and producers, a factor which the Foundation is keen to develop through 'personalising' the food business in market dominated by faceless corporations.

This is one of the reasons why Tadesse Meskela, general manager of the Oromia Coffee Farmers' Co-operative Union in Ethiopia, is visiting the UK for Fairtrade Fortnight. Oromia's mission is to support small producers in becoming economically self-sufficient and ensuring their families have enough to eat in a country prone to famine, and Meskela will be one of the 'faces' of Fairtrade throughout the fortnight.

"With Fairtrade coffee, farmers in Ethiopia are getting their deserved reward. Fairtrade is not just about selling and buying. It is creating a global family,"​ he said.

Along with Regina Joseph, a banana farmer from the Windward Islands Farmers' Association in the Caribbean, Meskela said that British support for Fairtrade products was vital if farmers in some of the poorest parts of the world were to survive.

Meskela and Joseph gave some examples of just how hard it has been for their growers. For most of the last six years, coffee prices have remained below the cost of production, causing immense hardship for millions of farmers. In 2001, prices plummeted to just 45 US cents per lb and farmers in Ethiopia, pushing many farms to the brink of collapse.

Between 1992 and 2003, annual export volumes of bananas from Dominica to the UK fell from 58,000 tonnes to 10,000 tonnes, while revenues crashed from US$32 million to US$5.3 million. As a result, the number of banana farmers on the island fell from 11,000 in the 1980s to just 700 in 2003.

Luckily for farmers in these regions, there is little sign of the popularity of Fairtrade waning in the UK, and sales are expected to show further growth in 2005, helped not only by the addition of more products but also by a broadening of the Fairtrade offer.

For example, the fastest growing area for Fairtrade is in the out-of-home sector, where sales of hot beverages are increasing at over 70 per cent per annum. The Foundation gave the example of AMT Coffee, which switched to 100 per cent Fairtrade coffee in its 46 coffee kiosks around the UK in November 2004, and Marks & Spencer, which switched to 100 per cent Fairtrade coffee in its 198 in-store Café Revives in September 2004.

Fairtrade coffee is also becoming increasingly popular in the workplace, the Foundation said. For example, the UK's Co-operative Bank switched its vending machines to Fairtrade in 1997, with 92 per cent of staff supporting the change. In 2002, its sister organisation Co-operative Insurance Services (CIS) also changed to Fairtrade, and the two organisations, now brought together as Co-operative Financial Services (CFS), have seen a combined net increase in hot beverage sales of 50 per cent (or 1.3 million additional vends) between 2001 and 2004.

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