NestlÃ©, a company frequently boycotted by ethical consumers, is thought to have applied for its first Fairtrade mark. The application, which covers a new coffee brand, has been met with a storm of criticism from lobby groups.
The Fairtrade Foundation is believed to be consulting its partners and supporters about the controversial application, to gauge opinion and seek advice about whether it should award the mark to the Partners Blend brand. Insiders says that the foundation feels under pressure to award NestlÃ© the mark – if it refuses, NestlÃ© might create its own self-certification scheme, which could undermine the work of the foundation.
The Fairtrade Foundation is expected to reach a decision later this autumn.
There are already concerns that Kraft Foods’ decision to tie up its coffee brands with conservation charity the Rainforest Alliance may confuse consumers. The Rainforest Alliance is not a fair trade organisation.
A number of interest groups are pointing out that the FairTrade Labelling OrganizationsInternational (FLO) application policy states that the foundation can refuse to give the mark to companies that it believes are involved in “bad behaviours” that might undermine FLO in the minds of consumers.
Baby Milk Action (BMA) is leading calls for the foundation to refuse to award NestlÃ© the mark. BMA policy director Patti Rundall claims that the company violates children’s rights and has a history of using its links with charities to gain good publicity. She says: “It would certainly bring the mark into disrepute, something the FLO rules themselves don’t permit.”
John Hilary, director of campaigns and policy at poverty charity War on Want, says that awarding the mark would send a confusing message to consumers about NestlÃ© and the meaning of the Fairtrade mark.
The Fairtrade Foundation declines to comment on individual applications but says that any company wishing to enter the fair trade market needs to demonstrate a transparent supply chain linked to certified Fairtrade producer organisations. NestlÃ© declined to comment as Marketing Week went to press.