Bill Keeling, md of London-based chocolate producer Prestat, claimed the fair trade certification bodies were running scared of genuine traceability in case it led to their own demise.
Keeling told a Farmers of the Future discussion at London Olympia yesterday (September 3) there was a “complete disconnect” between fact and perception when it came to the provenance of some fair trade chocolate.
Using Ghana as an example, he said most cocoa, fair trade or otherwise, was bought by the government. Under a “mass balance transaction”, it all goes “in to the same pot”, he said.
“This means a fair trade bar of chocolate may not contain any fair trade cocoa beans.
“If you bought a fair trade product, you would assume it was made with fair trade beans,” he added.
“We are supposed to have provenance, but there is no requirement to segregate lines under the mass balance transaction.
Pandering to western consumers
“Until we get traceability, fair trade is only pandering to western consumers who want to feel better about themselves.”
As a partner of the Source Trust, the not-for-profit organisation set up to help farmers which organised the discussion, Keeling said he was committed to improving the lot of West African farmers, as opposed to seeking certification for public relations and marketing purposes.
He added: “I do not wish to belittle the good work done by the likes of the Fairtrade Foundation or the Rainforest Alliance in raising awareness. But there needs to be far greater transparency between the governments, companies and certification industries.
“I sometimes worry the certification bodies think if we had full traceability they’d be responsible for their own demise. If this was the case, they should welcome it.”
Keeling also said he could not call a product fair trade if it was bought from a farmer who was not part of a cooperative and criticised the “tiny” premiums that eventually reached farmers.
However, an audience member from the Fairtrade Foundation said there were many examples of farmers who were thriving under the system and said they also benefitted in other ways, such as equipment and innovation.
Speaking about the role of the certification bodies in the future, Mike Barry, head of sustainable business at Marks & Spencer, said they still had a key role to play.
“My challenge is for them to say ‘right, you are at stage one, here’s stage two, three, four and five and this is how we can help you get there’,” he said.
Last year sales of fair trade products reached £1.32bn, up by 12% on the previous year.
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