Fairtrade Cheese?

I have just been listening to Harriet Lamb, Director of the Fairtrade Foundation, on Radio 4’s ‘Mid Week’ providing a typically passionate and eloquent account of how well Fairtrade is doing in the UK. Certainly the bare facts are very impressive: 2,500 certified organic products on sale in the UK with an annual  sales value of £400 million and 42% year-on-year growth. The Fairtrade logo has the highest recognition of any ‘ethical’ symbol with 54% of UK adults recognising it and what it stands for. The Fairtrade Foundation estimates that sales of certified Fairtrade products support over 5 million people in Africa, Asia and Latin America and in the words written on every certified Fairtrade product ‘guarantees a better deal for Third World Producers’. Only an idiot (or The Economist) could quibble with these wonderful achievements. It gets even better when you see all the good things that the extra money has funded. The Fairtrade premium has provided roads, schools, health-care, clean water and lots more. By buying and stocking Fairtrade products you have helped with this, so pat yourself on the back.

I should declare an interest. When I worked at Green & Black’s I helped develop Maya Gold, the first UK product to carry the Fairtrade logo. Subsequently I have helped to develop Divine Fairtrade chocolate, Fruit Hit Fairtrade smoothies and most recently Liberation Fairtrade nuts, as well as doing some work for the Fairtrade Foundation and the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation and even editing a book on Fairtrade marketing. Following a visit to Malawi to meet Fairtrade nut farmers I have persuaded two of my clients to pay for portable nut-shellers, which fit on the back of a tractor  and help the farmers produce better quality nuts in a much shorter time. I am very proud that in my own small way I have helped in the growth of the Fairtrade sector.

So I feel quite protective when I see something that undermines the sector. And that something is the launch of Wensleydale Creamery ‘Real Yorkshire Wensleydale with Fairtrade Banana and Chocolate’. According to Wensleydale marketing manager Sandra Bell “Cheese is the next big opportunity for Fairtrade products.” Oh really ? The cheese itself comes from UK farmers, with only the minority ingredients chocolate and banana coming from Third World producers. However the amount of banana and chocolate added to the cheese means that it qualifies for the Mark, under the Fairtrade Foundations rather antiquated rules on compound product labelling. Whilst this product may comply with the letter of the regulations, it misses the spirit behind the regulations by a country mile.  Even if you ignore the heinous crime of adding banana and chocolate to cheese (what were they thinking ?) this product remains a cynical exercise in getting the Fairtrade mark onto a product which was does not deserve to carry it . Even worse it runs the risk of undermining confidence in  the Fairtrade symbol and everything it stands for.

So ‘Just Say No To Fairtrade Cheese’, but say Yes to Fairtrade  tea, coffee, sugar, fruit, nuts, juices and chocolate where buying Fairtrade makes a real difference. Go to www.fairtrade.org.uk for more information.