“Fairtrade is the gold standard of ethical labels,” Fletcher told delegates

Consumers are being left confused by a ‘proliferation of ethical labels’ that leave the most vulnerable in the food chain paying the ultimate price, a senior Co-op figure has warned.

Speaking at a Fairtrade conference in East London last week - which called for a ‘Blue Planet’ moment to shine the light on unfair trade trading practices across the globe - Michael Fletcher, Co-op retail chief commercial officer, insisted the increasing number of ethical schemes was muddying shopper decision making.

“Fairtrade is the gold standard of ethical labels,” he told delegates. “Consumers tell us this, governing bodies tell us this and Fairtrade producers tell us this. Anything else frankly, falls short.

“Most consumers aren’t aware of the issues that exist. Those that are find it difficult to make informed choices due to the varying schemes which retailers and brands support, with the most vulnerable in our food chain paying the greatest price for this confusion.”

Ethical labelling schemes: what’s behind the label?

Fletcher claimed that more work was needed to help everyone understand exactly what Fairtrade stands for. “That means ending the proliferation of ethical labels and putting our full weight behind a conversation about global fairness,” he said.

“”We need an ‘Attenborough moment’ for Fairtrade. Just as Sir David put plastic pollution to the top of the agenda, we need huge public awareness for the importance of trade justice for the poorest on the planet.”

The conference, which brought together Fairtrade producers, farmers, commercial partners and NGOs, debated topics including gender equality in global trade, the future of transparency in supply chains, climate change adaptation and how to achieve living incomes for producers.

Michael Gidney, Fairtrade Foundation CEO, said Fairtrade had made great strides in improving the lives of millions of farmers and producers across the developing world in its almost 25-year history.

“However, we know that much more needs to be done,” he said.

“Issues like gender inequality, child labour, modern slavery and climate change are entrenched in a global system of trade that is still rigged against farmers and workers. To tackle these challenges we must work together.

“It is wonderful to see so much passion and desire for change from commercial partners and campaigners. We will not rest until we create a world where everyone receives fair pay for a hard day’s work and a decent price for his or her crop.”

Fairtrade sales in the UK grew by 7% in 2017, while the international market has grown by 15% every year for the last 30 years.

Earlier this year, Sainsbury’s was forced to change how it displays its Fairly Traded tea online after being rapped by the advertising watchdog for potentially “causing confusion”.

Labour MP Stella Creasy lodged a complaint with the ASA arguing that consumers would be duped into thinking the Sainsbury’s own-brand tea was certified by Fairtrade.

Sainsbury’s first unveiled its Fairly Traded pilot in May 2017 to a backlash from Fairtrade and charities including Oxfam.