My life in…Fairtrade

 

My claim to fame is that I helped to develop the first certified Fairtrade chocolate bar in the UK, Green & Black’s Maya Gold. Launched on 9 March 1994, the bar is still on sale today. Green & Black’s founder Craig Sams gives an entertaining account of how we managed this in his book Sweet Dreams

 

I left the Green & Black’s/Whole Earth empire in 1995 and set up OF+, advising a variety of companies on how they could take advantage of the rapidly developing market for sustainable food. In 1997 I received a call from Pauline Tiffen, then working for an extraordinary company called Twin Trading. Twin stood for Third World Information Network, but it rapidly became apparent that what was needed was not information but trade.

 

This is how Twin explains its development: “Twin went from importing goods such as rocking chairs and cigars in solidarity with co-operative movements, to combining trade with social and economic development in partnership with coffee co-operatives in Mexico, Peru, Nicaragua and East Africa. Twin was at the forefront of the Fairtrade co-operative movement and recognised the need to also work with farmers to improve the quality of their products to achieve the best opportunities in the markets. Twin imported its first container of coffee in 1989 on credit from farmer co-ops in Costa Rica, Mexico and Peru who had the vision to see that their participation in this early Fair Trade model could enable them to participate in the value chain and build a stronger future. This led Twin to officially launch Cafédirect in 1991, with the aim of furthering farmer ownership and influence over the products they supplied to market.”

After the success of coffee, the next priority for Twin was cocoa. Pauline wanted to know if I could develop a range of mainstream chocolate bars that would use Fairtrade ingredients but have the same flavour profile as UK market leaders such as Cadbury’s Dairy Milk and Galaxy. The cocoa would come from the fledgling Kuapa Kokoo co-op in Ghana. Oh, and I would need to find a factory to make the bars. I accepted instantly. For the next few months I helped Twin identify a sympathetic manufacturer and develop the launch range. I also got involved with fundraising to cover the cost of the enterprise, culminating in a memorable dinner in one of Kettner’s private rooms, where Ben Elton and Tony Robinson were persuaded to cough up. The design agency came up with the brand name Divine and we launched in October 1998. Divine continues to grow and prosper, now part-owned by Kuapa Kokoo thanks to the generosity of all the founding shareholders, particularly The Body Shop

I had been really impressed by what Twin Trading was doing and became one of its non-executive directors. I suggested forming an advisory group of like-minded souls including Keith Abel of Abel & Cole and David Croft, then at the Co-op, and after much deliberation, we decided the answer was nuts. As with Cafédirect and Divine, Twin Trading established a brand that could take Fairtrade nuts onto supermarket shelves, and that brand was Liberation. Another Twin success story.

This Fairtrade activity had brought me to the attention of certifiers the Fairtrade Foundation. In 2009 I was asked to review how its certification function might develop, and it was a natural progression to join the Certification Committee. When Nabs Suma stood down as Chair in 2015 I took over his job on the now renamed Certification and Oversight Committee, where I serve to this day.

Somewhere along the way, editor Jon Walmsley persuaded me to edit a textbook for Blackwell Publishing entitled The Handbook of Organic and Fair Trade Food Marketing. I shared the job with my friend Diane McCrea, got my then-client Sainsbury’s to provide sponsorship and launched at BioFach in 2007. The book currently sells for an eye-watering £165.