The treatment of agricultural producers in the supply chain is a hot topic in France, attracting widespread interest and prompting significant debate. The French government recently completed a massive consultation on the state of the food chain, États Généraux.
Coming out of this process, President Emmanual Macron’s La République En Marche party developed a new bill to address the perceived imbalance of power in the supply chain. Throwing his weight behind the bill, France’s Minister for Food and Agriculture Stéphane Travert said it will see producers propose contractual terms, with prices to be determined by production and market cost indicators.
At the time, Macron threatened to make public those brands that “do not change their practices” to make sure “the right price [is] paid for farmers”.
“In France, anger and discomfort in the agricultural world are perceptible throughout the country,” Agri-Éthique’s founder Brindejonc explained. “Farmers are mobilizing and demonstrating to put pressure on the government and to [publicise] the many reasons for their distress: low prices, high debt, health crisis, farms closing, climatic hazards [and so on].”
Brindejonc said that Agri-Éthique’s approach is supported by the outcome of the États Généraux. “We are very pleased to see that these issues have become a government priority. The message is positive,” he said.
However, the fairtrade pioneer added that private actors must “take their responsibilities and act”.
“The current economic model with power [unfairly distributed] and a win lose logic is not viable in the long term,” he argued. “We risk putting a [time limit] on our agriculture. But I remain positive and I note a real awareness of a number of actors to engage in fairtrade approaches. The movement has launched and we are proud to have been among the pioneers.”
Fairtrade for French farmers
Typically, fairtrade certification schemes are targeted at raising standards in developing economies where commodities like cocoa, rice or coffee are a key output. Brindejonc believes this approach is just as applicable to safeguard primary producers in developed markets like Europe.
“Agri-Ethique's ambition is to change conventional business practices by creating partnerships between the players in each agri-food sector on the French market. Our first commitment is above all to guarantee the income of French farmers. The Agri-Ethique label is built on a sustainable economic base: All actors in the sector become partners and establish purchase contracts over several years by guaranteeing a remunerative price to the farmer.”
A secure price over a contractual period, as promoted by Agri-Ethique, provides farmers with “visibility and security”.
Agri-Éthique fairtrade certification for French food can be applied to products of French origin, respecting the following 6 principles:
- Remunerative prices for producers, based on production costs and a balanced negotiation
- A multi-year commercial commitment between producers and buyers
- The payment of an additional amount intended for the financing of collective projects
- Producer autonomy through the establishment of democratic governance in their organizations
- Transparency and traceability of the sectors
- Consumer awareness of socially and environmentally sustainable production methods
Agri-Ethique works alongside Fairtrade France and shares the “same values” of transparency and solidarity, Brindejonc said.
A ‘distinctive sign’
The Agri-Ethique label provides consumers with a "distinctive" and trustworthy sign that French-grown products have not been brought to market at the detriment of French producers.
Since 2016, Agri-Ethique has relied on third party certification from an independent organization, Certipaq, which carries out an evaluation procedure for all partners.
According to Brindejonc, the label can be leveraged to deliver a point of difference by food makers and retailers who partner with the scheme.
“The affixing of the logo [on packaging] assures consumers of the validity of the Agri-Ethique commitments and the consistency of the approach. The Agri-Ethique label provides a distinctive sign that enhances the partners.... The consumer must then be able to recognize the commitment of the partners.”
Through the fairtrade logo, Agri-Ethique is able to help deliver win-win-wins that benefit the producer, the processor and retailer and, at the end of the day, the consumer.
“This new type of business reassures the producer, strengthens his power within the sector and empowers all stakeholders: risks are shared and production volumes secure. It also contributes to changing attitudes about the transaction patterns of agricultural markets.”
Over time, contractual benefits and guarantees on price and volume enable producers to invest in their businesses, bringing benefits to rural communities in France, Brindejonc continued.
“By paying for agricultural production at its fair value, by creating transparency at all levels, everyone wins, the producer, the processor, but also the consumer who becomes a fairtrade player. Consuming Agri-Ethique means making a solidarity gesture for farmers.”
As confidence in the system and trust between partners grows, the conversation is evolving. Looking beyond price, actors are now getting around the table to discuss subjects from agro-ecology to animal welfare, the fairtrade pioneer observed.
Giving meaning to consumption
The French consumer is in the driving seat when it comes to promoting a fairtrade approach in the French supply chain. “The consumer is more and more receptive. They wants to give meaning to their consumption,” Brindejonc observed.
According to one recent poll, by Max Havelaar, 68% of French people are willing to pay more for a product that guarantees fair conditions and prices for consumers.
Brindejonc noted that sales of French fairtrade products rose 18% last year, while international sales grew 7%. “These remarkable growth rates confirm that the French are giving more and more importance to the remuneration of producers.”