How Fair Is Fairtrade? the Fairtrade Movement Aims to Help Producers in Developing Countries - and the North East Has Been at the Forefront of the Movement. but, as SARAH SCOTT Reports, a New Report Has Questioned Whether All Companies Carrying the Fairtrade Logo Are Equally Committed to the Project

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Byline: SARAH SCOTT

BROWSING the supermarket shelves, it can be seen as a sign of good conscience to reach for those products with that unique Fairtrade sticker.

But a new report by the University of Bath has found some companies may have a deeper commitment to the fair trade movement than others.

The North East has been at the forefront of the fair trade movement, with two of the biggest ethical companies based on Tyneside.

But as more mainstream companies jump on the fair trade bandwagon, there is a fear that those pioneering groups will be left by the wayside.

The research from the University of Bath's School of Management has highlighted how companies differ in their level of commitment to the Fairtrade system.

Although the Fairtrade labelling system is generally known to signal a standard approach to supporting better terms of trade for the "producers" of commodities such as tea, coffee, cocoa and fruit, this new report argues that there are different levels of fair trade.

While the study does not criticise multinational involvement in fair trade, it argues that more needs to be done to highlight the differences to consumers so they can make an informed decision and understand how different levels of commitment impact on producers in developing countries.

Dr Iain Davies, who co-authored the review with Professor Bob Doherty from the University of York and Sophi Tranchell, managing director of fair trade company Divine Chocolate, said: "Consumers are not aware of the different approaches to fair trade and therefore improved communication from the 100% fair trade organisations on why they are different would help consumers make informed decisions." He said he hopes the research will encourage consumers to buy more goods from the 100% fair trade organisations, to ensure their survival. One of those organisations is Traidcraft, which is based in Kingsway in Gateshead's Team Valley Trading Estate.

It was set up in 1979 as a Christian response to poverty, combining a trading company and a development charity, and it is now the UK's leading fair trade company. Paul Chandler, Traidcraft's chief executive, said he agreed with sentiments expressed in the review and admitted the smaller organisations did find it difficult to compete with the big multinationals. He said: "I think there is a very clear distinction between the pioneering organisations and mainstream fairtrade. "What we need to be clear about is complying with the standards, which are the same for everybody, but the standards do not cover everything we believe fair trade represents."

Paul said that although the big multinational companies do comply with the fair trade standards, many are missing that key relationship with producers in developing countries. "Building the grassroots movements that underpin Fairtrade in the UK is something Traidcraft spends a lot of time and energy doing," he said. He added: "I think there's quite a lot of added value that Fairtrade organisations bring, what we do not bring is scale. "You do need the big companies to really open up large-scale markets and have a greater number of producer groups." In the report, Dr Davies has identified seven categories, or "value chains" for fair trade, assessing products from growth through to their sale to consumers.

They range from products that are 100% fair trade that are produced, supplied and retailed by fair trade organisations, to major brands converting products to be fair trade certified for general sale by multinational corporations such as Procter & Gamble and Cadburys. The review looked at fair trade research and practice from 1990 to present day, to examine the effects of the "mainstreaming" of fair trade on the original nine fair trade principals, where large corporations have become involved in the system. The nine original principles encompass minimum pricing and the provision of a social premium as basic principles, through to consumer education, pre-financing, farmer training, gender equality, traceability and sustainable production. …