I thought I’d be glad to see a headline that wasn’t about Trump or Brexit, but, ‘is Cadbury move the end for Fairtrade?’ provides no light relief – not for me or the small-scale nut farmers who are shareholders of Liberation Foods. To the Liberation nut farmers, Fairtrade certification means a decent price for their crop, a price that covers their costs and enables them to keep farming. It means a Fairtrade premium to invest back into their farms, co-operatives and communities. And it means the assurance of pre-finance to secure their crops. The pre-finance loan comes on the back of the purchase contracts we place with the farmer co-ops each year – well in advance of their harvest season – to enable good planning and reliable supply. Fairtrade certification also requires our farmers to run their co-operatives in a transparent, democratic manner and thus take collective responsibility for dealing with the myriad challenges and issues that their members face.
So Fairtrade is working for Liberation; but we are in nuts, not cocoa, and what’s more we are a tiny spec of plankton compared to the huge ocean that is Mondelez. Fairtrade exists to improve the livelihoods of the small-scale nut farmers that founded our company. Our mission is social rather than purely commercial, although of course we have to cut the commercial mustard to fulfil our mission.
I am glad that Mondelez and other multi-national companies are increasingly recognising that they could and would not exist without the small-scale farmers at the far end of their supply chains. I am glad that they are putting effort into ensuring that these farmers keep farming and keep supplying us with the foods we need and treats we love. I think that this increased corporate awareness of the issues facing small-scale farmers in developing countries has in no small way been influenced by the rise of the Fairtrade mark in the UK, thanks to the millions of consumers and campaigners who have got behind it. I am glad that Mondelez is still working so closely with the Fairtrade Foundation and their audit function FLO cert to hold the ‘Cocoa Life’ programme to account.
What concerns me most about the articles that I have read about the Cadbury move is the distinct lack of a farmer voice. Mondelez tell us that they will offer ‘five times more sustainable chocolate in the UK’ by 2019. The cynic in me says, well that’s nice I will still be able to buy Cadbury chocolate, as Mondelez will make sure they can still buy enough cocoa, but what does that mean for the farmers? ‘Sustainability is about much more to us than price’, says the Northern European President of Mondelez, who goes on to say, ‘the next generation of cocoa farmers isn’t taking on farming because it’s so unprofitable, so we have to make sure their communities thrive and this means investing more in their communities’. Again, it is tempting to take a cynical view that, if I was a farmer, I think that it would be very much about the price I got paid for the crop I produce, rather than about what projects my huge customer chooses to impose on my community. But if I took a cynical view I would not be doing the job that I do. So I can only encourage Cocoa for Life, working in close partnership with Fairtrade, to listen to the farmers and work with them on an equal footing.
Food supply chains are already more transparent than they were a few years ago. Open, honest and decent dealings at every step of the supply chain can only make sense in the long term for consumers, companies, farmers and workers. To achieve this, we need a range of approaches for different situations, we need corporate and consumer commitment and we need to learn from and share our successes and our failures. We need Cocoa for Life and programmes like it to be held to account by consumers; and by experts in small-holder supply chains, like the Fairtrade movement.
As I said, Liberation Foods is very different to Mondelez – our mission is to bring farmers and consumers closer together so that everyone gets a better deal – working with our farmers on a level playing field is at the very essence of what we do. In our small yet powerful way, we will strive to demonstrate that you can run a business with farmers AND consumers at its heart. So let’s hear it for transparency and let’s hear it for small-scale farmers, near and far.
Peace, love and peanuts,