Who is the fairest of them all?
Bryony Moore wonders who she can trust to provide
an ethical cuppa.
Consumers rely on fair trade standards to provide them with a guarantee of good working conditions for workers, and support for the most vulnerable producers. Do the Fairtrade Foundation and other fair trade or organic labels deliver?
With sales of Fairtrade Foundation certified tea booming, consumer awareness of working conditions among tea pickers thankfully appears to be at an all-time high. However, some ethical standards are better than others.
The Fairtrade Labelling Organisation (the standards and certification body for the Fairtrade movement of which the Fairtrade Foundation is a member) states that its priority is "towards the most marginalised producers."(1) It independently monitors producers' management of their workforce, including payment of a living wage, safe living and working conditions, healthcare and children's education, according to standards specific to the product being produced.
FLO develop long-term contracts between buyers and producers, through the signing of a Quarterly Sourcing Plan,(2) and also charge buyers an additional Fairtrade Premium, of which an amount goes into "special bank accounts controlled democratically by the workers on each certified estate. With the extra cash, workers have launched much-needed community programs — from retirement funds to school and medical facility upgrades."(3)
ETI, ETP ETwho?
Many mainstream companies have chosen to develop their approach to fair trade issues through other organisations.
The Ethical Trading Initiative is an alliance of NGOs, trade union organisations and companies. Company members are required to work towards adopting the initiative's Base Code, which sets out minimum standards for employers to attain (the code is a standard, no matter whether the producer is making clothes or coffee). ETI assesses company members on their performance in improving labour standards in their supply chain, then companies are given guidance on how to improve further. The Ethical Tea Partnership and Typhoo Tea Ltd are members.
The Ethical Tea Partnership was formed and is funded by a number of large tea packing companies looking to "ensure and demonstrate that the tea they buy is ethically produced."(4) Members of the ETP included in this report are Bettys & Taylors of Harrogate Ltd, The Tetley Group and R Twining & Company Ltd.
ETP aim "to ensure that, as a minimum, producers conform with all requirements of the ETP Standard which encompasses the ETI base code, ILO core conventions, local laws and collective bargaining agreements."(5)
According to the Base Code, producers are required to provide a living wage for their workers. But without a promised minimum price or long-term purchasing agreement, it is difficult to see how small producers would be able to offer this security to their employees whilst engaged in sales with large corporations pushing for ever lower prices.
The current structure of the ETP appears to focus on the large-scale producer, increasing the gap between them and the smaller producers, who remain stuck in a rut. In their own words; "ETP's mass-market programme not only drives volume towards estates achieving the higher standards, but opens the possibility of better prices for those estates as a consequence of market demand."(7)
There are many organic certification bodies, all with slightly different standards. All UK standards will at least meet the UK government minimum, but because tea is produced in many different countries outside the UK, even if a tea is certified Organic by the Soil Association, it will be certified organic by an organisation local to where it was produced, and then certified just for processing and packing by the SA. Generally, a certified organic product will be free from genetically modified ingredients, will have been grown avoiding the use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides, and with the use of crop husbandry to maintain soil fertility and control weeds, pests and diseases. control weeds, pests and diseases.
Do one thing
Don't let big companies get away with using deceptive logos. Only buy Fairtrade Foundation certified tea.
1 www.fairtrade.org.uk 2 www.fairtrade.net 3 http://consciouschoice.com 4 www.ethicalteapartnership.org 5 www.ethicalteapartnership.org 6 Norman Kelly ETP, phone conversation 10/01/2008 7 www.ethicalteapartnership.org 8 FLO annual report 2006/7 9 www.which.co.uk 10 ?A fair cup; towards better tea buying? report by Traidcraft p.6 11 www.cafedirect.co.uk 08/01/2008 12 Phone conversation with Hampstead Tea representative 08/01/2008 13 Clean Clothes Campaign newsletter:23 May 2007 14 http://environment.independent.co.uk 17/01/2008 15 www.clipper-teas.com 07/01/2008 16 www.steenbergsorganic.net 12/12/2007 17 www.dragonfly-teas.com 07/01/2008