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Sainsbury’s drops Fairtrade label on tea

Jun 12

Written by:
12/06/2017 15:24  RssIcon

Sainsbury’s to pilot its own ‘Fairly Traded’ tea programme


The retailer stated that its own-brand Red Label, Gold Label, Green and Roobios teas would now be sourced under its own pilot project called Fairly Traded.

Sainsbury's is one of the UK’s largest sellers of Fairtrade-certified products and one of the earliest adopters of the certification scheme – in 2007 Sainsbury’s became the first major UK supermarket to switch all its own label tea to Fairtrade.


Sainsbury's Tea


Sainsbury's claimed it would still provide guaranteed minimum pricing and a social premium for investment.

The Fairly Traded social premiums will be managed by the Sainsbury’s Foundation – a non-charitable organisation. The Fairly Traded pilot will be overseen by an advisory body made up of Sainsbury’s staff and independent members from charities, academics and NGOs.

This is a departure from the Fairtrade model, under which farmers and producers decide for themselves how social premiums are spent.

Backlash against decision

The Sainsbury’s Foundation has attracted criticism from civil society groups, with Traidcraft explaining that the Fairly Traded social premiums would be “managed by a grant-making committee in London rather than paid to local producer groups.”


Traidcraft's CEO Robin Roth stated:

“At Traidcraft we aim to empower the farmers and workers who are most vulnerable in the supply chain. We fear that this new scheme from Sainsbury’s may instead consolidate the power of the retailer over the supply chain”.


Image: Sainsbury's


Oxfam’s Ethical Trade Manager Rachel Wilshaw said that the initiative “risks being a regressive step”, and that it is crucial that it meets the “rigorous standards of the wider [Fairtrade] movement.”

Michael Gidney, CEO of the Fairtrade Foundation, said:

“Whilst we welcome and expect companies to work towards improving social, economic and environmental outcomes within their supply chains, we don’t believe the execution of this current model will, on balance, deliver positive changes for tea farmers. Therefore, at this stage we are unable to partner with the Sainsbury’s Foundation as it does not yet meet our core principles, particularly in the area of producer empowerment.”

The Fairtrade Foundation reported that farmers and producers are “extremely unhappy with some aspects of the move”. A primary objection expressed by farmers was that the new partnership will take control away from producers.

“Farmers and workers will only be able to access these funds if they are successful in applying for grant funding for investment following project proposals”.


image: Tea Picker


In an open letter, tea producers from across East and Central Africa, and Southern Africa Networks of Fairtrade Africa wrote:

“We told Sainsbury’s loud and clear: your model will bring about disempowerment. We are extremely concerned about the power and control that Sainsbury’s seeks to exert over us.

We work for, OWN our product and OWN our premium. We see the proposed approach as an attempt to replace the autonomous role which Fairtrade brings and replace it with a model which no longer balances the power between producers and buyers.”

Sainsbury’s stated that the move represented a “new way of working that will empower tea farmers in Malawi, Kenya and Rwanda to strengthen their businesses and communities as they tackle ever growing challenges.” 

According  to Traidcraft, the retailer has made clear that it would like to extend this approach to other products, which could lead to the eventual replacement of Sainsbury’s long-standing commitment to Fairtrade standards.

The move by Sainsbury’s follows Cadbury dropping the Fairtrade label in favour of its own scheme, Cocoa Life. The Cadbury’s scheme, however, is at least partnered by the Fairtrade Foundation.


Boycott call

Director of Revolver Co-operative, Paul Birch calls on consumers ‘to vote with their conscience and boycott corporations like Sainsbury’s and Cadbury who have abandoned ethics in pursuit of profit”.  


Take action

Sign the petition.





Read our feature: Why Buy Fairtrade?









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