Nestle and Kraft Foods (who own Kenco, Carte Noire and Maxwell House), are planning to launch their own brand of "ethically produced" coffee next year. This is of course a highly cynical move related entirely to the fact that both companies have watched their turnover in coffee fall at the same time that sales of "fair-trade" coffee rise.
Am I being too harsh? Surely the fact that these two giants have finally given in (they both previously refused to buy any fair-trade coffee) is a good thing? Unfortunately, they have clearly employed a cadre of lawyers to define "ethical" to prevent the loss of profit and con the public into believing that their brands are the equivalent of fair-trade producers.
Kraft´s new line is likely to be called "Kenco Sustainable Development", and translates to an increase of 20% for those farmers who fit their "sustainable" criteria. The current price of green coffee on the market is 65 US Cents (or 35p per pound), so Kenco would pay those that fit the bill a "massive" 78 US cents. This compares with the fair trade price of $1.21.
Fairtrade organisations believe a proliferation of rival certifications could damage the consumer appeal of the niche market for coffee produced to high ethical criteria. I consider this to be exactly the point. By putting their marketing machine behind a coffee which claims to be ethically produced they can try to take the market back from those pesky fair-trade organisations, without having to actually pay a decent price to the farmers.
Kenco has asked the Rainforest Alliance to certify their brand as sustainable. Essentially, the RA will certify that the plantations are not damaging the earth, they make no comment on the poverty of the workers. Both companies still refuse to market a product that conforms to the fair trade ethos.
Kenco state "By having their farms independently certified as being on the path to sustainability by the Rainforest Alliance the farmer gets more value for his coffee, man ages a farm he can be proud of and increases his independence on the open market."
However, as the Fairtrade organisation has pointed out, "If people are not making enough to send their children to school they are not going to be preoccupied with long-term issues around damage to the environment."
So why are the big two not prepared to meet fair-trade standards?
Kraft - "We believe the majority of consumers are not willing to take the premium we would have to charge if we were to convert to the Fairtrade system." (ie we will not compromise our profits for ethical considerations, and we assume everyone is a selfish as we are).
Nestle - "We believe in a sustainable approach to coffee production and ... aim to reflect our beliefs in our product development. Nestle is always looking at ways to innovate and re-energise products." (we are not interested in the people, only their ability to keep selling us cheap coffee).
To Nestle and Kraft, "ethics" do not come into it. This is about profit, and nothing else.
Look for the Fairtrade Logo on your coffee
For further information check these resources -
Oxfam (especially the Canadian and American offices)Return to Top