Broderick’s was among the first companies in the UK to embrace Fairtrade products and we still do: however, these days, we believe that Fairtrade must begin at home…
The nineteenth Fair Trade fortnight is with us and the annual event has become something of a celebration. However, it’s worth reminding ourselves that it was not ever thus…
Fairtrade, when it emerged, was contentious, to say the least. Clare Short, who was International Development Secretary in the Blair government, publicly backed the Co-Operative Bank’s ‘Fair Trade Coffee Challenge’ in June 1998 and subsequently, a distasteful row erupted, with existing producers of coffee and chocolate in particular reacting angrily to claims that their suppliers were being ‘exploited for profit’.
It was New Labour (remember the ‘things can only get better’ mantra?) that took on the multi-nationals. Within months, Clare Short had written personally to the CEOs of Britain’s Fortune 500 companies, backing the Co-op’s call to offer staff the option of purchasing Fairtrade coffee from workplace vending machines. Ms Short stated that ‘conventional trade damages the lives of growers because the majority of the world’s small farmers do not get a decent price from the sale of their crop.’
The clarion call was heeded: many top UK businesses, including Alliance & Leicester, Lucas Varity, Jarvis, and the Woolwich agreed to take part. Local councils then joined the dash to Fairtrade, led by Bristol, Nottingham, Bath and Norwich.
By December that year, the hue-and-cry was in full swing. Early Day Motion #153, in December 1998, was signed by 53 sitting MPs: ‘This House congratulates the Fairtrade Foundation for its work in protecting the basic rights of overseas workers who are producing goods for sale in the United Kingdom; welcomes the Co-operative Bank’s Fairtrade Coffee Challenge which ensures that all their employees have the chance to drink Fairtrade marked coffee and further welcomes the decision of many leading British companies to take up this challenge; urges United Kingdom vending companies and contract catering companies to offer Fairtrade marked coffees as part of their range and calls on leading food multinationals to include independently verified Fairtrade products in their range; congratulates the House of Commons Catering Committee’s decision to supply Fairtrade coffee; and supports the work of the Secretary of State for International Development in promoting the issue of fair trade.’
So, everybody was patting everybody else on the back.
Broderick’s took the plunge into Fairtrade and right from the beginning, we embraced Fairtrade coffee. The trouble was, where we’d replaced a ‘conventional’ offer with a Fairtrade equivalent, coffee sales nose-dived… There are painful memories here of replacing Gold Blend with Fairtrade’s Café Direct on one particular site – and seeing sales slashed by 60%…
The quality of the first Fairtrade coffee we received was, indeed, very poor in relation to the products they’d been ear-marked to replace. We had to use airport-style metal detectors to scan the incoming product for ‘foreign bodies’, typically pieces of metal used to bulk-up the weight. And the taste was, shall we say, ‘unpredictable’. We were warned by our suppliers and even by good friends in the industry that we were in danger of allowing this new, ‘politically correct’ product to tarnish our reputation. The nay-sayers were unhappy that the government, by endorsing just one coffee from a single supplier, was contravening existing anti-competition laws.
We stuck to our guns.
Soon afterwards, Divine Chocolate launched as the first farmer-owned Fairtrade chocolate company, teaming up with the Kuapa Kokoo co-operative in Ghana and funded by a DfID loan. The vending and contract catering industries were, once more, ‘encouraged’ to choose the ‘Divine’ option, provoking the fury of companies such as Nestle and Kenco.
Eventually, of course, these companies, alongside many others, seemed to decide, ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’. Nestle adopted Fairtrade and Kenco, the Rain Forest Alliance, (RFA).
‘We never, ever use zero-hours contracts.’
This time around, Broderick’s will once again take part in events that have been organised to celebrate Fairtrade Fortnight but this time, we’re going one further, as MD Johnny Broderick explained: ‘We’re the biggest purchasers of Fairtrade products in the vending industry and we’re proud to do our bit to support foreign farmers and ensure that they are properly rewarded for their work, which is great’, he said. ‘But things have changed massively in the UK in those nineteen years since the first Fairtrade fortnight. There were no food banks in the UK then and no such thing as a ‘zero-hours contract.’ We believe that businesses should apply the same rules of fair play to their own workers in the UK. That’s why we never, ever use zero-hours contracts, even when our competitors continue to do so. That’s why we’re paying the Living wage, rather than the minimum wage, when many of our competitors continue to do so. That’s why we endured the pain of embracing Fairtrade products in the first place, when many of our competitors did barely enough to ‘tick the box’…
‘Just as farmers deserve fair pay, so do our people’, Johnny said. ‘Fairtrade to us means looking after the people we employ and making their lives better.’