This week, as Britain reached peak Easter Egg buying frenzy, Channel 4 screened its Dispatches documentary entitled “Secrets of Cadbury” and asked some challenging questions of the iconic British chocolate brand known for its proud social heritage.
According to the programme the acquisition of Cadbury’s by American food giant Kraft in 2010 and the subsequent creation of the Mondelez group of which Cadbury’s is now a part has been followed by a series of broken promises and a weakening of ethical standards. Areas covered included closing a British manufacturing site which had previously been assured a future, “fudging taxes” so that no corporation tax is paid in the UK and then the stark suggestion that Fairtrade has not been embraced as fully as had been originally promised.
Of course these documentaries are designed to expose and embarrass and may “spin” the facts to create a sensational story but the programme does raise some important questions about how Fairtrade plays out in the context of major international companies. They are questions not only relevant to Cadbury’s and Mondelez but to other large brands and companies too.
So seven years on from that memorable milestone when Cadbury’s Dairy Milk “went Fairtrade” what lessons can we learn and what questions do we need to ask?
First let’s start with the positives.
Cadbury’s announcement in 2009 that it was going to convert its flagship Cadbury’s Dairy Milk brand to use Fairtrade cocoa and to carry the Fairtrade Mark was arguably one of the defining moments in the mainstreaming and growth of Fairtrade in the UK and internationally.
For cocoa growers in Ghana this was great news and it meant that overnight volumes of cocoa bought on Fairtrade terms trebled. As a result many more thousands of cocoa growers and their families have benefited ever since from the guaranteed minimum price and the Fairtrade premiums which according to Fairtrade Foundation amount to $200/tonne. This was and remains a hugely positive step forward for these cocoa growers and a major step forward for Fairtrade.
What’s more for consumers it meant that Fairtrade chocolate became available on a truly national scale not only in all the major supermarkets but in practically every convenience shop, newsagent and garage forecourt in the UK thanks to Cadbury’s immense distribution. It also meant that Fairtrade had been embraced by an international brand – Cadbury’s is available in many countries around the world.
This was a day which Fair Trade campaigners had dreamt of for decades so it was indeed cause for celebration for the movement. It established Fairtrade as a leading ethical initiative for major brands and it helped Cadbury’s position their brand as an ethical leader amongst its competitors and cemented its position in UK consumers’ minds as a national treasure.
So what about the questions?
The Dispatches programme raises some important questions for Cadbury’s which go wider too and apply to other major companies who are involved in Fairtrade.
If you believe in doing Fairtrade then surely that should apply to everything you do not just to a limited range of your products?
One of the memorable clips from the programme was an interview with the Cadbury’s CEO Todd Stitzer back in 2009 who stated that “our goal is ultimately to have all of our chocolate bars be Fairtrade” – a visionary and ambitious statement that set pulses racing amongst Fair Trade campaigners at the time.
So has this happened? Seven years on the answer is no, not yet.
Whilst Cadbury’s Dairy Milk has indeed switched to Fairtrade and has been followed by Cadbury’s chocolate buttons and Cadbury’s drinking chocolate the rest of the Cadbury’s range has remained outside Fairtrade with apparently no plan to change.
So many major Cadbury’s brands like Flake, Wispa, Crunchie, Double Decker and Curly Wurly to name but a few which could contribute in a major way to the volumes of cocoa bought on Fairtrade terms are currently outside the system.
The Fairtrade Foundation’s reaction to the programme was to encourage people to “ask Cadbury’s to switch more products to Fairtrade” which suggests that the opportunity is there for Cadbury’s to do more and it’s not limited by farmers’ capacity to supply Fairtrade cocoa but it appears that Cadbury’s and Mondelez are reluctant to take the next step.
It’s fair enough for a huge company like Cadbury’s or Mondelez to say “we have to start somewhere” but after seven years we’re left to wonder – is there any plan to go any further?
Interestingly Mondelez stated this week that they expect to sell over 700 million Easter Eggs this year in the UK but it appears that none of the vast Cadbury’s Easter Egg range is made with Fairtrade cocoa. Surely this is a big missed opportunity?
Mondelez have not offered a reason for this which means that we are left to wonder why?
Could it be that they are not prepared to pay the additional cost? Do they feel that they already have the “halo effect” of having Fairtrade on their flagship Dairy Milk brand so they don’t need it on other brands? The answers have not been forthcoming in the wake of the programme this week but it would be good to hear more on this from Mondelez.
Why can’t a major company like Cadbury’s offer Fairtrade ingredient traceability to consumers?
Another issue raised by the Dispatches programme was that even though Cadbury’s Dairy Milk products carry a Fairtrade Mark there is no guarantee that any particular Cadbury’s bar contains actual Fairtrade cocoa. So in fact as a consumer you might be eating cocoa produced under very poor working conditions or at an extreme it may involve child labour.
The reasons for this are connected with the way that cocoa processing works on a large industrial scale and so the Fairtrade certification system has been developed in a pragmatic way which can allow for this by operating a “mass balance approach”. This means that an equivalent amount of cocoa is bought as Fairtrade to match the volumes of bars produced so the farmers receive the full benefit. However this isn’t seen as the best approach for consumers or growers.
In the case of small-scale supply chains and at the early stage of developments this mass balance approach can sometimes be the only practical way of working and some dedicated Fair Trade companies like Traidcraft do use this approach on some products. However cocoa is now a well-established Fairtrade ingredient and much smaller brands than Cadbury’s such as farmer-owned and 100% Fairtrade brand Divine Chocolate can guarantee traceability. This means that you know that you are physically eating Fairtrade cocoa when you eat a bar of Divine chocolate. The same can be said for Traidcraft’s organic and Fairtrade “More Than Just Chocolate” range.
So why can’t Cadbury’s achieve this with their far greater scale and influence on suppliers?
How does Fairtrade sit alongside the broader ethics of a brand?
Fairtrade prides itself on being the most trusted of ethical product marks and also the best known. Yet one of the questions raised by the programme was that Cadbury’s has lost its ethical values by avoiding paying tax in the UK whilst benefiting from UK infrastructure to run its business. The reaction to the Channel 4 programme on social media suggests that many find the idea of a brand which doesn’t behave ethically when it comes to issues like paying taxes doesn’t sit well with the concept of carrying the Fairtrade mark. Technically it can be argued that the Fairtrade Mark applies only to the Fairtrade ingredients but seen as whole it does raise questions. This situation of course goes broader than Cadbury’s. When Nestle announced that it would be using Fairtade cocoa in its Kit Kat brand the response was again mixed due to chequered track record of Nestle in the minds of many ethical consumers.
So what can be done about this?
Traidcraft recognises that the Fairtrade Mark is only part of the solution and that companies do need to look broadly at corporate responsibilities as a whole. This is one reason why we campaign for better legislation and trade rules to ensure that companies think carefully about how they treat people and take their wider ethical responsibilities seriously.
Could the big brands do more?
Answers provided by Mondelez to my questions about their plans for Fairtrade on Twitter this week have pointed to their Cocoa Life programme. According to Cadbury’s this programme aims to benefit over 200 000 cocoa growers in Ghana by 2022 and they state that they plan to invest $400 million in Cocoa Life. This sounds impressive and the programme has been applauded as a real positive step and the funding has to be seen as positive although of course this is a business decision to secure high quality cocoa for Mondelez as much as it is about being beneficial to cocoa growers. However we shouldn’t be afraid to ask the question – could Mondelez do more? This is not an outrageous suggestion given that we all rely on cocoa growers to be able to enjoy the chocolate we enjoy so much and without the cocoa Mondelez and Cadbury’s would cease to exist.
We are asking these questions of Mondelez and Cadbury’s in the wake of the Channel 4 Dispatches programme this week but they are the same questions we ask of other companies and brands and we constantly ask of ourselves at Traidcraft. Can we do more? Can we apply the principles of fair trade more broadly and deeply to everything we do? How can we raise the bar and have an even greater impact on growers and producers? For Traidcraft we’re driven by our mission of fighting poverty through trade. We also believe this makes good business sense: supply chains become properly sustainable when they truly benefit all involved.
Here at Traidcraft we champion the best of Fair Trade. We champion brands like Divine who whole-heartedly apply Fair Trade principles and use their limited resources to bring traceable, delicious Fairtrade chocolate to the UK and we’ll always want to challenge and question big brands like Cadbury’s because we want to raise the standards of fair trade.
All we suggest to you is that you buy the brands that represent your values – and for the very best of fair trade, a great place to look is traidcraftshop.co.uk