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UK supermarkets’ plan upsets Kenyan tea producers

A tea farm in Nandi County. FILE PHOTO | NMG
A tea farm in Nandi County. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Kenyan tea producers have opposed plans by UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s to change the way Fairtrade tea is sold in British and European shops.

The issue came to a head following a meeting between Sainsbury’s and farmers from tea co-operatives in East and southern Africa in Nairobi recently in which the UK supermarket said it wanted to change the terms of its co-operation agreement and label the tea ‘fairly traded’ rather than Fair Trade under its own in-house certification scheme setting new ethical standards.

The suggestion according to an article in the Observer newspaper was that the proposal was part of a rethink of the company’s supply chain post Brexit and could “lead to lower social and labour standards and more hardship in developing countries as well as deep confusion among consumers and ethical trading groups.”

Now a letter from tea producer representatives of East and Central Africa and Southern Africa to the company has been released in which it said that the group was “unanimous in our decision to reject this unequal partnership with the Sainsbury’s Foundation. We believe it will strip us of rights and benefits attained over the years under the Fairtrade system.”

The group adds that the proposed Sainsbury’s Standards “add a further unwelcome layer of bureaucracy and will create additional burden for producers.”

It is a view backed by Britain’s largest development agency Oxfam whose Ethical Trade Manager Rachel Wilshaw said: “Sainsbury’s Fairly Traded initiative risks being a regressive step. If it does not meet the rigorous standards of the wider movement it could be less effective in supporting poor farmers and producers around the world and potentially confusing for consumers.

“It is crucial that any new initiative matches the standards of the Fairtrade Foundation or builds on them, and is transparent and accountable. This is not currently clear and we hope Sainsbury’s will quickly provide clarification. 

“Oxfam is concerned that Sainsbury’s plan may fall short in tackling the deep-rooted issues that leave thousands of people earning too little to escape poverty. In particular we would like small-scale producers supplying Sainsbury’s to continue to decide for themselves how money raised through the scheme will be spent on improvements in their community.”

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