by Louise Valducci, Head of Major Retail at Fairtrade Foundation
Last Saturday, I travelled to Manchester to attend the Co-operative Group’s Annual General Meeting, the first one in its history to be held under a one-member-one-vote system.
Around 2.5 million Co-operative members were eligible to vote on a number of issues, including whether the Co-operative should renew its commitment to lead the way on Fairtrade. Some 90,000 Co-operative members took up the opportunity to have their say, including around 700 members who attended the meeting in person.
I had an opportunity to say a few words about the difference that Fairtrade makes for farmers and workers, and to thank the Co-operative and its members for their support over the last two decades. I was delighted that when the votes were counted, the overwhelming majority of members - 96% – had agreed that the Co-operative should maintain its ambition to lead on Fairtrade.
The Co-operative has a long history of trading fairly, which goes right back to the principles it was founded upon more than 170 years ago. It was the first major retailer to champion Fairtrade produce. The first supermarket to sell Fairtrade bananas, and the first retailer to offer a Fairtrade own-brand product when it launched its Fairtrade Milk Chocolate.
Over the last two decades, the Co-operative has continued to lead the way on Fairtrade by converting entire own-brand ranges including tea, coffee, sugar, block chocolate, hot chocolate, bananas, roses, winter blueberries, and even cotton wool. It is the world's leading seller of Fairtrade wines, and offers a total range of more than 200 Fairtrade products.
These commitments have helped to make Fairtrade produce accessible and affordable for shoppers living right across the UK, and they have also helped to change the lives of tens of thousands of small-scale farmers and workers in developing countries.
Over the last five years, we estimate that the Co-operative's Fairtrade sales have generated almost £14 million in Fairtrade Premium. This has helped farmers in countries such as Colombia, Ethiopia, Ghana and Malawi, to increase their yields, improve the quality of their crops, send their children to school, build health care facilities, and invest in other vital infrastructure for their communities.
The Co-operative has also invested more than £2m in its 'Beyond Fairtrade' programme over the last five years. This additional funding has supported producer groups in a number of ways, for example, it has helped farmers to diversify into other products, improve their environmental practices, and provide communities with access to clean water and sanitation.
From holding events and wine tastings, to lobbying their MPs, Co-operative members have played an essential role in raising awareness and growing sales of Fairtrade produce over the last 20 years. We are grateful for their ongoing support, and we are proud of the benefits that our partnership has already delivered to communities around the world. But there is much more to do to make all trade fair.
Looking ahead, the Co-operative Group has confirmed that it remains committed to sourcing 100% of core own-label products on Fairtrade terms, and ensuring these products are available across its stores. It plans to increase promotion of Fairtrade, to build more direct links with Fairtrade producers, and look at the potential to convert more products to Fairtrade. This is all very welcome news.
Over the coming months we will be working closely with the Co-operative and its members to put these plans into practice, as we continue to work towards our shared vision of a world where more farmers and workers get a fair deal and can build a more sustainable future for themselves, their families and their communities.