A leading West Midlands politician is backing a national campaign calling on Sainsbury’s to reverse its controversial decision to drop Fairtrade tea.
So far 90,000 people have signed an online petition against the move by the supermarket giant to abandon Fairtrade certification for its own-label tea and set up an in-house standard.
West Midlands UKIP MEP James Carver accused Sainsbury’s of undermining the Fairtrade movement by badging its tea “fairly traded”, which he warned would disempower poor farmers.
He said: “Instead of receiving the Fairtrade social premium money and spending it on schemes, such as pensions, sick pay or education which they themselves choose and control, they now must go cap in hand to apply for it from a new Sainsbury’s foundation, apparently with no guarantee of receiving it even though it has been rightfully earned.”
Mr Carver, a member of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, continued: “Poor farmers from countries including Malawi, Rwanda and Kenya feel their rights are being taken from them – it smacks of colonialism when we want to be partners and friends of those nations.
“Fairtrade has long been recognised as the gold standard of ethical trading and this move by Sainsbury’s could be the thin edge of the wedge, with fears the new standard will be rolled out across other products, including bananas and coffee.
“Already Tesco is planning to move all its own-label coffee from Fairtrade to the Rainforest Alliance next year and a plethora of ethical certification will only serve to confuse the consumer.”
As part of Sainsbury’s initiative, producer groups also have to certify with other schemes at their own expense, which Mr Carver said “may create efficiencies for the company but is unlikely to do so for farmer organisations”.
He added: “There is no evidence this so-called pilot scheme, which has no time limit, has the transparent and rigorous standards and consultation structures for which Fairtrade is renowned.
“It looks very much like cost-cutting - why else would a company like Sainsbury’s, which has such a strong track record of championing Fairtrade, decide to take the trusted mark off their tea products?”
The scheme has been condemned by Sainsbury’s shareholders along with organisations including ethical trading company Divine Chocolate, Oxfam, Cafod, Christian Aid and the Women’s Institute.
Mr Carver is calling on the public to sign the change.org petition Sainsbury’s: don’t ditch Fairtrade! and is writing to the company’s CEO, Mike Coupe, urging a re-think in the wake of the “serious concerns” many organisations and farmers have about the scheme.