Fighting the banana wars As Fairtrade Fortnight draws to a close, a new book by Harriet Lamb, head of the UK Fairtrade Foundation, tells the story of Fairtrade and the difference it is making. Martin Tiedemann 8th March 2008 Share 0 Tweet Fighting the Banana Wars and Other Fairtrade Battles is available for £10.99. Here is an extract, where Harriet considers the future of Fairtrade, including the thorny issue of whether and how to engage with the big retailers and brand names: In June 2007, I was ironing the kids’ school uniforms while watching Tony Blair on the TV news make his emotional resignation speech. He called on us to: ‘think – no really think’ about how different Britain was ten years ago when he came to power. On the BBC website, philosopher and author Julian Baggini reflected: ‘A more permanent change of the last ten years could be the way in which issues of global justice and environmentalism have become mainstream. In 1997, Fairtrade coffee, campaigns such as Make Poverty History, and popular support for reducing our environmental impact were found only on the fringes of society. For instance, in 1997 Sainsbury’s didn’t sell any Fairtrade bananas. Soon all its bananas will be certified Fairtrade. The change is largely down to customer demand, which is ironic, because early advocates of such issues were generally of the view that consumerism was synonymous with selfish greed. . . . Whether it is because of or despite his leadership, it seems indubitable that Britain has a greater sense of its global responsibility as Blair prepares to leave Downing Street than it did when he entered it. The shifts in public concerns in the last ten years have indeed been remarkable. ‘To judge the success of Fairtrade,’ John Kanjagaile once told me, ‘don’t look only at sales volumes and market shares, look at the issues on the agenda, look at what the public are asking and what companies are debating. When we go into negotiating rooms with companies now, even if they’re not yet doing Fairtrade, they all have to do something on social and environmental issues.’ As a 2007 Mintel report identified: ‘Green is the new Black’. It found: ‘People in Britain today are clearly moving towards more ethical lifestyles and are starting to realise that their actions have consequences. As British shoppers increasingly look to shop with a clear conscience, Mintel forecasts that the market will continue to grow for the foreseeable future. People do not want to damage the planet or its people and as a result retailers that once competed only on price are now partly competing on who is the greenest and fairest of them all. But can this surge of interest be sustained? Can it be turned into real improvements for millions of producers? Will people make Fairtrade their daily, lifelong habit? How far can we take Fairtrade in the next five, ten, years? Key to these evolving plans is Mike Gidney, the Chair of the Fairtrade Foundation, and Director of Traidcraft Exchange’s Policy Unit. Usually en route to lobby ministers on world trade rules or supermarket dominance, Mike is always flying through our offices to ensure we stay on track with our core mission and remain accountable to our NGO owners despite the strong crosswinds constantly buffeting our little organisation. Gesticulating wildly, and speaking nineteen to the dozen, he wastes no time outlining the vision: ‘We’ve gone a long way – but Fairtrade needs to be ingrained into the fabric of our lives and the economy. To make this next step-change, we need to engage the public, businesses and governments so that they are ready to deepen their commitments. We need’, he pauses, ‘to start really transforming trade – so we can touch more lives deeply.’ Top of our To Do list is keeping Fairtrade sales growing – so more producers of more products can have more benefits. There’s much to celebrate about the take-off of Fairtrade. We’ve come a long, long way from the early get-togethers of banana and coffee producers, when their main call was for organisations such as the Fairtrade Foundation to invest more in growing the market. In fact, at one point, the coffee farmers even suggested investing some of their premium in marketing – an idea that was rejected in the end. But, far as we’ve come, we do not delude ourselves about the impact this is having on global poverty as a whole, and nor can businesses rest up, feeling they’ve ‘done their bit’. Still only a tiny proportion of disadvantaged producers in developing countries can participate in Fairtrade – because it’s still only a slither of the food we buy from overseas. So there is everything still to play for. The good news is we have solid foundations to build on – a global system, a turn-key model that can be applied to new products, public appetite for more, many businesses ready to move from merely complying with Fairtrade rules to deeper commitment. Now we need to realise that potential to make a significant difference to poverty. In five years’ time, Fairtrade in Britain could top sales of £1.6 billion (where organics are today), five times today’s level. And perhaps global Fairtrade sales could reach $10 billion by 2012. More importantly, we want to achieve that by embedding Fairtrade into the way companies trade and citizens shop. The first fifteen years of Fairtrade turned a seemingly wild idea into a living alternative with a foothold in the mainstream and thousands of companies involved worldwide. While having different strategies for each commodity, in the next few years we need to make Fairtrade the rule, not the exception, so it becomes what Mark Price,Waitrose’s Chief Executive, calls ‘the hygiene factor’. So, just as a company will always meet stringent hygiene rules for food products – they are the non-negotiables – so too Fairtrade couldbecome part of the normal way of doing business with producers in developing countries, while enabling the more committed companies to go further still. We can surely imagine the day when most bananas, and a good chunk of roast and ground coffee sold in British shops is Fairtrade. Other fresh fruit such as pineapples and grapes have also been making great progress, with the supermarket chain Asda leading the way here along with the fresh fruit company Malet Azulet, who have worked with them and other retailers to achieve this. However, the potential for growth is still huge. And we will need clever strategies for those products that have been stubbornly stuck at the bottom of the Fairtrade sales league – like chocolate, rice or tea. … I am convinced that so long as the public keep on asking for Fairtrade, then we are barely out of the starting blocks with everything to run for. Take coffee, the most established product. While Fairtrade is very significant in roast and ground coffee, most people in Britain drink instant coffee where Fairtrade takes just 3 per cent of the market. Certainly Cafédirect Director Penny Newman believes that it should be possible to get sales of Fairtrade instant coffee up to the same level as ground coffee. It also means going down all avenues: encouraging supermarket own brand, while ensuring the 100 per cent Fairtrade companies survive and prosper, enabling niche suppliers to do Fairtrade, but also bringing large companies on board. Whole swathes of business, in particular the big multinational brands, have yet to even look into Fairtrade, while in each sector the Fairtrade brands can lead the way.