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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 March, 2004, 08:24 GMT
How fair trade hit the mainstream
By Lucy Jones
BBC News Online business reporter

A dress made by People Tree
Fashion companies are turning to fair trade
Britons over the past decade have become a nation of ethical shoppers.

A packet of tea with the fair trade premium may cost 40p more than other brands, but many of us happily pay the extra in the knowledge that tea farmers in the developing world are not being exploited.

The fair trade food market has become so hot, that Tesco launched on Monday its own fair trade brand, while the rival Co-op chain is doubling its line.

Tesco's new own Fairtrade brand includes orange juice, mangoes and roses, as well as the coffee, tea and chocolate it has kept in stock for many years.

"A certain group of customers have always bought our fair trade goods. We are trying to make the brand appeal to all our customers," Tesco spokesman Greg Sage said.

Fairtrade Foundation, the organisation which promotes better working conditions and trade terms for developing world producers, says annual fair food sales have hit the 100m mark.

Growth since the Fairtrade label was launched 10 years ago has stood at between 40-90% a year, expanding from one brand of coffee to 250 foods, including fruit, juices, vegetables, snacks, wine, tea, sugar, honey and nuts.

'Quiet revolution'

Britain is now the second largest market after Switzerland, while fair trade sales are booming across the continent and in the United States.
[Shoppers] have shown that, contrary to supermarket logic, they are concerned about something more than price
Harriet Lamb, Fairtrade

Harriet Lamb, Fairtrade's executive director, describes the rise in sales as a "quiet revolution".

"[Shoppers] have shown that, contrary to supermarket logic, they are concerned about something more than price," she says.

And this has been achieved without the massive advertising campaigns employed by the bigger brands, she adds.

Fairtrade's history

Aid organisations were among the first to promote fair trade by enabling third world producers to sell their goods - usually handicrafts - directly to the Western consumer, often in their charity shops.

While the schemes pulled some families out of poverty, Fairtrade recognised the need for the programmes to include a greater number of goods, be embraced by commercial manufacturers and to bring fair trade into the supermarkets where most people shop.

Fairtrade has 3% of the UK's coffee market
4% of bananas are sold at a fair price
One in four Britons recognise the Fairtrade mark
There are 250 fair trade products in the UK
The first Fairtrade consumer guarantee - the Max Havelaar label - was launched in the Netherlands in 1989.

Today there are labelling initiatives in 17 countries, mainly throughout Europe and North America.

The Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International was set up in April 1997 to introduce a single international Fairtrade label.

Brands have gone from strength to strength: now on offer are fair trade roses from Kenya, footballs from Pakistan and organic chocolate spreads, as well as coffee, tea and vegetables.

But it is still a small market, Dr Andrei Sarychev from the London School of Economics points out.

"As trade intensifies, the problem of fairness will be solved on its own accord... fairness reflects intensive competition," he says.

Trading houses, which are sometimes regarded as the middle men who take most of the profits can be a good thing, as long as there are many of them, he adds.

Celebrity appeal

Nonetheless, fashion designers are jumping on the fair trade bandwagon.

This week in London, People Tree, a fair trade fashion company which works with 70 fair trade groups in 20 developing countries, is showcasing its lines.

The company pays its suppliers 20-30% more than they would receive without the fair trade deals and guarantees them work.

The company, which started operating in Britain three years ago, is going from strength to strength, says Helen Osgerby. "Minnie Driver has apparently ordered a catalogue," she added.

Share issue

Co-op, the first supermarket chain to take on substantial quantities of fair food (a decision taken after it consulted its customers) said it expected annual sales to reach 21m next year.

Cafe Direct, one of the first fair trade brands, is now Britain's sixth biggest coffee company and will next month launch a share issue.

Meanwhile, the Youth Hostel Association has announced it is switching to fair trade tea and coffee and the Salvation Army is switching to fair trade food.

The BBC's Nicola Carslaw
"It's still a small market"

Fairtrade mark for UK organic food
03 Jan 03  |  UK News

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