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Fairtrade’s fight to reclaim leadership as multinationals in-house certification

The Drum 23 Sep 2020 11:36
Fairtrade total brand refresh to open people's eyes to strength of global Fairtrade community

As Fairtrade embarks on a total brand refresh at the beginning of a five-year plan, its head of brand and marketing sat down with The Drum to explain how it is connecting with its activist roots to harvest sales in a market at risk of overcrowding.

Green, blue and black, the waving figure nestled between Fairtrade’s yin-and-yang stamp offers a comforting guarantee that the goodness you’re about to consume is matched by the goodness provided to the supplier on the other end.

Established back in 1992, the Fairtrade Foundation was an ethical pioneer, striving to educate people about the importance of a fair supply chain.“When we were set up, sustainability wasn’t really on the agenda,“ explains its head of brand and marketing, Laura Van de Ven. “The consumer insight at the time was founded on the fact that people needed to know the problems in order to act on them.“

“While some mainstream brands have joined the Fairtrade certification, as the climate crisis goes higher up on the agenda, this has resulted in a proliferation of sustainability schemes and certification marks,“ she says, pointing to the fact that supermarket shleves in the UK are now stacked high with products bearing sustainability logos. There are now more than 460 on food and beverage packages, with a third created over the past 15 years.

Beyond that, giant food multinationals have begun taking matters into their own hands by setting up their own in-house certification programmes. Back in 2017, Fairtrade was dealt a blow to its business when both Sainsbury‘s and Tesco made turned their backs on its brand, instead deciding to appraise the ethics of their supply chains themselves. Dubbed ‘fauxtrade‘ tea, Sainsbury‘s, (previously UK's biggest Fairtrade retailer) provoked a response from 40 cross-party MPs who urged it to reconsider, while one politician went to the Advertising Standards Authority to complain its new ‘Fairly Traded‘ brand would mislead consumers; the ad watchdog agreed.

Acknowledging the move by multinationals to in-house certification, Van de Leden insists: “We‘re very supportive of the fact that these companies are putting attention to those at the bottom of the supply chain. But Fairtrade is an independent certification body, which is something that we pride ourselves on. It‘s not like marking your own homework. Only Fairtrade farmers receive protection against market prices, due to the Fairtrade minimum price.“

And so, yesterday (22 September) Fairtrade embarked on a new five-year plan that includes a total brand refresh to reassert itself against competition and remind those who's boss.

“In this Covid-19 environment and Brexit climate, where the interconnectedness of the world and of trade is very high on the agenda. It seemed like a very unique time to relook at our brand and what we could deliver," Van de Ven details. "Some of the key pillars that this brand refresh is looking to address is we want to fight for the next generation of farmers and we want to mobilise the next generation of consumer to inspire the next generation of campaigners.“

What good this brand refresh will do in stemming the movement of brands to other certification charities, or to in-house themselves, is hard to predict. Either way, it‘s a good opportunity for Fairtrade to make its mark, again.

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Van de VenFairtrade FoundationLaura Van de VenSainsburysKitKat
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