Commentary: Brands are abandoning Fair Trade in favour of in-house certification schemes

Author: Samanth Subramanian, The Guardian, Published on: 24 July 2019

"Is fair trade finished?", 23 July 2019 

...Companies are losing faith in labels such as Fairtrade... Increasingly, companies are finding it easier and more expedient to produce their own certifications...

In May 2017, without any warning, Sainsbury’s broke the news that it would stop selling Fairtrade tea... Later, Fairtrade estimated that these changes would affect nearly 250,000 farmers and workers...

Around the world... companies are quitting independent certification, either because they think they can do sustainability better in-house, or because they see an opportunity to craft standards that fit their own purposes. Soon after Sainsbury’s, the global confectionary giant Mondelēz... pulled several of its chocolate bars... away from Fairtrade and into an in-house certification scheme called “Cocoa Life”. Nestlé had launched a similar programme, “Cocoa Plan”, back in 2013... Starbucks has “CAFE Practices”; Barry Callebaut, the Swiss cocoa producer, has “Cocoa Horizons”; US giant Cargill has “Cocoa Promise”; McDonald’s has its own “McCafé Sustainability Improvement Platform”... 

“I think companies are hoping that label fatigue is an enduring trend,” said Elizabeth Bennett, a political economist... “They’re hoping that... we’ll all just think: ‘Any claim of sustainability is an improvement over no claim.’” This makes it easy for companies to resort to the ruse of “greenwashing” – pretending to be ethical without really being anything of the sort...

Several people in the corporate world offered an even more depressing version of this story: companies are sidling away from third-party certifiers because their optimistic project – the idea that the market can be heedful of its own abuses and correct itself – has, in a grand sense, failed. After decades of work, these certifiers have been unable to truly alter the imbalance in global trade; they have struggled to protect farmers, or to arm them for their various social, economic and environmental battles...

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Related companies: Barry Callebaut Cargill McDonald's Mondelēz International Nestlé Sainsbury's Starbucks