Fairtrade sales double to £500m as supermarkets join trend

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The Independent Online

Once an ethical mark found only on the odd jar of coffee or in Oxfam shops, the Fairtrade movement has experienced a surge in popularity to hit sales of almost £500m. Twice as many Fairtrade products were sold in 2007 as in the previous year, rising in value by 81 per cent – double the trend for the past decade.

The movement to help poor farmers abroad, confined to only a few sectors in 2000, is now starting to have a "significant" impact on commerce, according to the Fairtrade Foundation, which released the statistics to mark Fairtrade Fortnight, which starts today.

Sainsbury's and Waitrose's decision to stock only Fairtrade bananas were notable successes, and the fruit overtook coffee as the biggest-selling Fairtrade item. Banana sales consequently rose 130 per cent to top £150m, and one in every four bananas bought in the UK is now Fairtrade. Tea and coffee rose by 24 per cent to a combined £147m, helped by Marks & Spencer's decision the previous summer to stock only Fairtrade ranges.

Overall, the value of Fairtrade goods shot up from £273m to £493m, far exceeding the 49 per cent rise recorded the previous year.

The statistics – and the behavior of retailers – suggests that Fairtrade is becoming "mainstreamed", the goal of the movement, which began in earnest in the UK in 1991 with the launch of the Cafe Direct brand. The Fairtrade Foundation says that around 7 million farmers, their families and their communities have been given a better life as a result of customers buying its products.

In the biggest change from a manufacturer, Tate & Lyle announced on Saturday that it intends to convert its entire £56m-a-year retail range to Fairtrade, raising the amount of fairly traded sugar 15-fold by the end of 2009.

However, British companies are being urged to remember the human rights of workers throughout the whole supply chain, particularly in developing countries. Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Debenhams and Next, who are all signed up to the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), all recently banned cotton from Uzbekistan from being used in their clothing ranges, following evidence that child and forced labour was being used to produce it.

Dan Rees, from the ETI, which works with major companies to improve the lives of workers in global supply chains, said: "Retailers and brands have a huge potential to use their buying power to make a difference to the lives of workers in poor countries such as Bangladesh and Uzbekistan. Nearly 20 million people in Bangladesh depend on the garment industry for their livelihood."

Mr Rees said that the scale and scope of ETI members' influence was growing. "Last year, our members requested their suppliers take nearly 40,000 separate actions to improve workers' conditions," he said. "Consumers also need to be asking retailers what they are doing about the workers throughout their entire supply chain."

The International Development minister Gareth Thomas recently called on the industry to "raise its game and ensure that suppliers pay a living wage to its workers". He said: "There is a lack of information for consumers who want to know where products are sourced from."

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