Some of you might know me as one of the Co-op’s Member Nominated Directors (MNDs) elected at our AGM in 2015. What you might not know is that in my previous life I was Chief Executive of Traidcraft, and President of the European Fair Trade Association.
Traidcraft is one of the original pioneers of Fairtrade in the UK and a leading advocate of wider responsible business practices. It imports a wide range of foods and crafts from producer groups around the world, selling through volunteers, mail order and retailers. Traidcraft is also one of the founders of the Fairtrade Foundation which controls use of the Fairtrade mark on products and it is a key player in the international fair trade movement.
During my time at Traidcraft we saw total sales of Fairtrade in the UK grow from under £50 million to the current levels of £1.6 billion each year, largely thanks to our policy (working with the Fairtrade Foundation) of encouraging mainstream food manufacturers and retailers to get involved. It made life a lot more difficult for ourselves by bringing powerful competitors into the sector, but it a was necessary move if we were going to extend the availability of Fairtrade products and maximise the impact for producers.
We were also known for the quality of our social impact reporting, and for achieving changes to company law (making directors accountable for their companies’ wider impacts on society) and campaigning for the establishment of the Grocery Code Adjudicator to help rebalance power between supermarkets and their suppliers.
At Traidcraft, we worked closely with the Co-op – and particularly Brad Hill – to introduce the first Fairtrade wine to the UK and together we pioneered the development of fairly traded coffins, rubber gloves and charcoal. Because Fairtrade fits so well with Co-op values from the beginning there was a real enthusiasm for supporting the movement – other retailers were much more reluctant to get involved and when they did so were clearly motivated purely by customer pressure rather than any desire to change the world for the better. Experiencing the Co-op’s commitment to its values was one of the reasons I decided to put myself forward as an MND.
If it wasn’t for the Co-op, I don’t think that Fairtrade would have captured people’s imagination and grown as much and as fast as it has done in mainstream markets.
Now as an MND I still get to use my Fairtrade experience in working on our ethical policies, and it’s really interesting to see Fairtrade from a retailer’s perspective too.
At this year’s AGM there will again be a Motion around strengthening our commitment to Fairtrade, alongside a couple of other meaty ethical Motions you’ll hear about soon.
But before the next AGM comes around, I wanted to reflect on what the Co-op’s achieved in Fairtrade since the last AGM.
- Co-op retail sales of Fairtrade products increased by 18.4% in 2016 against a national market growth of 7.6%
- We’ve committed to offer 100% Fairtrade own brand ranges of tea, coffee, bagged sugar, bananas, roses, chocolate bars, and maintain our position as world’s largest seller of Fairtrade wine
- From February 2017, all Co-op chocolate confectionery now carries the Fairtrade Mark
- From May, all the cocoa we use in Co-op Brand products will be Fairtrade. This will increase the amount of cocoa we source on Fairtrade terms five-fold
- We’re co-funding a Fairtrade Africa three-year women’s leadership school in Cote D’Ivoire
- We’re directing funding from our own brand water sales (via One Foundation) into the cocoa growing Ashanti region in Ghana, to benefit members of the Kuapa Kokoo co-operative
- We’re listing two Divine branded chocolate products in store
- All of the bagged sugar we sell is 100% Fairtrade – at a time when many other retailers have downgraded their commitment to sugar following changes in the EU’s sugar regime
- We’ve invested in new projects with Aguadas (coffee from Colombia) and Fintea (tea from Kenya) focusing on women’s health and nutrition education
- In Tilimuqui in Argentina, construction will soon begin on a much needed medical centre, and in South Africa, new worker housing will be built at Bosman Family Vineyards
- This season we’ll once again be the only retailer selling Fairtrade charcoal that supports new housing and other projects for workers in Namibia
In my old life I spent a lot of time overseas in countries like Malawi, Kenya, Bangladesh and Peru, and I can assure you that in developing countries like these, Fairtrade changes lives. It’s the difference between having reliable crops, clean water, education and hospitals; or not.
So to everyone that works hard here to support and develop Fairtrade products, and to everyone who buys Fairtrade – congratulations on everything we’ve achieved in the last year, and thank you for supporting products that change lives.
Co-op Member Nominated Director