oxfam fairtrade protest web

Source: Oxfam

Oxfam says Sainsbury’s scheme will take away control from the farmers, as protesters make their point at the agm

Tensions over Sainsbury’s dropping the Fairtrade label have come to a head as campaigners staged protests outside its agm yesterday.

Campaign groups gathered outside the meeting in London to rally against the launch of its in-house Fairly Traded scheme, which could eventually be rolled out more widely across its own-label tea.

CEO Mike Coupe also faced questions over the scheme inside the agm, where shareholders asked how it would mark an improvement over Fairtrade.

Coupe suggested Fairtrade failed to offer adequate support in today’s climate, where farmers faced new challenges in the form of increased droughts and floods.

“It might have been fit for purpose 25 years ago, but we’re in a new world with new technology,” he said.

A row has been brewing since Sainsbury’s announced the pilot of Fairly Traded on its tea earlier this month, which the supermarket said was developed largely in partnership with Fairtrade and offered the same premiums.

A question of money

But a point of contention has emerged over how the money will be allocated. Fairtrade farmers can spend their premium as they wish, but Sainsbury’s is looking to retain some control over the allocation of funds.

Under the Fairly Traded scheme, farmers will develop strategic action plans and present them to Sainsbury’s, which will provide “tailored advice, data and practical support”.

Sainsbury’s argues the system will ensure the money is spent effectively and will help develop long-term relationships with the farmers. “For the first time, farmers will be able to benefit from evidence-based data that is pertinent to their farm, crop and country,” the supermarket says in its factsheet. It stresses that it will make no financial gain from switching away from Fairtrade.

But Oxfam says the scheme will take away control from the farmers. “Sainsbury’s has some really strong ambitions that we would wholeheartedly support, such as transparency, traceability and getting more information to farmers,” said Erinch Sahan, senior advisor on business and markets. “But they can do these alongside their commitment to Fairtrade and we feel they’re throwing the baby out with the bath water.

“It’s a weak argument to say they know what to do with the money better than the farmers themselves; it’s the opposite of the empowerment that Fairtrade has given them.”