Waitrose commits to 100% Fairtrade tea amid Sainsbury's alternative scheme controversy

British supermarket chain Waitrose has strengthened its commitment to source Fairtrade tea, as fellow retailer Sainsbury's continues to face criticism for launching its own 'Fairly Traded' sustainability standard.

Waitrose has said that its customers are

Waitrose has said that its customers are "extremely loyal" towards Fairtrade products

All 46 Waitrose own-label tea products will now be Fairtrade-certified, after its three Early Grey lines complete the conversion in October. The retailer currently stocks 250 Fairtrade-certified products, including 100% of its own-label speciality sugars and the majority of its block chocolate.

Waitrose claims that Fairtrade products “clearly symbolise” to customers that tea farmers are benefiting from “good working conditions, a fair deal and funds to spend on their local community”.

“We’re proud supporters of the Fairtrade Foundation and have seen first-hand their strong track record of supporting farmers who most need it,” Waitrose commercial director Rupert Thomas said.

“We’ve found that our customers are extremely loyal towards Fairtrade products and appreciate our long-standing and continued commitment - it highlights the investment in and support for the people, communities and businesses that produce our food.”

Fairly Traded debate

Fairtrade certification allows farmers to choose how to spend the premium generated – either on business development or community projects such as schools and health clinics. This issue has been at the heart of debate around Sainsbury’s decision to switch to its own in-house tea certification scheme, a move which has faced opposition from shareholders, 40 cross-party MPs and 85,000 online petition signatories.  

Under the retailer’s new Fairly Traded system, control over a portion of allocated funds that tea farmers currently receive on top of their earnings would be retained by Sainsbury’s. Tea producers from across East and Central Africa and Southern Africa Networks of Fairtrade Africa have warned that the system will disempower producers and shift the balance of power to buyers.

But Sainsbury’s claims the new approach will go a step further than the financial support offered through Fairtrade, with the retailer offering tailored strategic advice, data and practical support to help farmers respond to specific challenges, such as climate change.

Sainsbury's chief executive Mike Coupe has sought to alleviate concerns, saying: "Our Fairly Traded tea pilot aims to build on the Fairtrade model, providing a guarantee that our farmers will continue to receive all the funding currently in place – with additional safeguards built in to ensure this crucial funding reaches those it is intended for.

"The pilot is cost neutral and there are no savings to Sainsbury’s business. Additionally, the price of our tea will not change for our customers."

Scaling up

If successful, the tea pilot – which affects more than 229,000 farmers – could be scaled up to other key commodities within Sainsbury’s supply chain. The retailer, which remains the world’s biggest seller of Fairtrade products, claims that the new approach could help to simplify eco-labelling for the company.

But the Fairtrade Foundation has been quick to condemn the move, claiming that Fairly Traded approach falls below the core principles offered by Fairtrade, and will take control away from producers.

“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,” the organisation’s chief executive Michael Gidney has said.


Sector summary: The state of sustainability in retail

edie has just published a new sector summary report exploring the state of sustainability in Britain's retail industry. The report was produced with input from the BRC and incorporates the key findings from our own industry survey to outline five drivers, challenges and opportunities facing sustainability professionals in the sector.

Case studies from the likes of Argos, Tesco and Amazon are combined with exclusive commentary from retail firms such as Co-Op, M&S and Stella McCartney in the 17-page report, which concludes with a look at some of the latest technologies and innovations which are shaping the retail business models of the future.

Read the retail sector summary here.


George Ogleby

George Ogleby


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