A letter to Sainsbury’s

james Food & livelihoods, General, Private sector

This is a joint agency letter sent to Sainsbury’s CEO Mike Coupe following the announcement of the “Fairly Traded” tea pilot and the creation of the new Sainsbury’s Sustainability Standards. 

Dear Mike,

Following the announcement of Sainsbury’s “Fairly Traded” tea pilot and the creation of the new Sainsbury’s Sustainability Standards, we are writing to express a number of serious concerns. Although Sainsbury’s has been a pioneer of Fairtrade products in the UK, which has helped improve the lives of farmers and workers around the world, we do not believe your plans, as currently outlined, will build on these improvements.

We see “own brand” certification standards as a step backwards in tackling major issues related to poverty and environmental sustainability. We will only succeed by working together more closely in sector-wide approaches and Sainsbury’s scheme risks undermining our collaborative efforts of the last 25 years.  Our supporters look to us for guidance on applying their values in practice, including purchasing decisions. Products sourced in such a different way to both Fairtrade certification and Fair Trade principles will mislead consumers if branded as “fairly traded”. We will continue to advise our supporters, who are also likely to be deeply concerned by this development, that products which carry the Fairtrade mark are still the best assurance of improved wages and working conditions for those who produce our food.

Despite your assertion, in media communications, that you are “matching all the benefits of Fairtrade”, we believe the proposals themselves fall short of the Fairtrade standards on deep-rooted issues such as addressing very low wages in the tea sector as well as worker empowerment. Removing decision-making on the use of premiums from farmer organisations goes against the clear evidence that financial decision-making power for workers and farmers is essential to help them realise human rights, improve environmental sustainability and increase economic development. Workers on tea plantations will no longer benefit from a clear and credible plan to raise wages towards a living wage. The proposed Sainsbury’s Tea Standard requires producer groups to certify additionally with other schemes at their own expense. Sainsbury’s will therefore be drawing heavily on investments made by others, not least farmers’ organisations themselves, to support its own needs. While this may create efficiencies for Sainsbury’s, it is unlikely to do so for farmer organisations.

Sainsbury’s does not appear to have ensured meaningful consultation of trade unions, workers or farmers’ organisations in the development of the standards. While Sainsbury’s consulted some of our organisations on earlier drafts, we do not see that our feedback has been reflected.  We ask that you do not extend your scheme beyond tea until you have published independent evidence of the impacts of your pilot including a clear analysis of the costs to all stakeholders. We are happy to continue to engage with Sainsbury’s on this independent evaluation process, but in the interests of our shared belief in a better future for all who grow our food, we encourage you to urgently review and reconsider your plans.


Yours sincerely,


Bananalink [ETI Member]

CAFOD [ETI member, Fairtrade Foundation member]

Christian Aid [ETI member, Fairtrade Foundation member]

Oxfam GB [ETI member, Fairtrade Foundation member]

Traidcraft [ETI member, Fairtrade Foundation member]

The Women’s Institute [Fairtrade Foundation member]


CC Michael Gidney, CEO Fairtrade Foundation

CC Peter McAllister, CEO Ethical Trading Initiative