Fair Trade: A Matter of Ethics

05 November, 2015

In the enlightened society we live in, it goes without saying that we want our wines to be made by happy, decently paid workers living in sustainable communities where their children can be educated and they get the health and social care they need. Or does it?

Some suppliers are taking Fairtrade labels off their premium lines because they say consumers associate the accreditation with cheap wine.

Bibendum PLB, which supplies wines from South Africa’s Stellenrust, is among them. The agency sells a Fairtrade-labelled wine in the on-trade, but keeps the logo off the off-trade equivalent.

Gareth Groves, managing director of Bibendum PLB’s independent wing, Walker & Wodehouse, tells OLN: “We put a Fairtrade label on a £15 Chenin Blanc and people think it is overpriced. The bulk of it has always been relatively entry level and driven by places such as the Co-op.

“There is a perception problem with the Fairtrade label and we need to get over that. Consumers don’t seem to be engaging with the Fairtrade label on wine in the same way they do with coffee, chocolate and bananas, where it has become standard.”

Groves couldn’t say whether the issue came from producers or consumers, but added: “The idea that in order to make great quality wine you have to treat people badly is kind of weird. The idea that you can treat people well while also making money and quality wine is obviously true.”

In Paarl, Fairview is fully Fairtrade accredited, but only puts the logo on its Goats Do Roam range of wines. The winery says that is because Goats Do Roam has the broadest global reach, and its wines are hardly entry level, priced from around £7.50 to £13.29.

Raisin Social technical manager Simon Garrett has not seen consumers balking at higher-priced Fairtrade wines. The agency supplies wines from Du Toitskloof and a Fairtrade wine under the Namaqua brand.

Garrett says: “The wines we are selling are in the everyday part of the market – not entry level, but not super-premium either. We haven’t had any price resistance. Fairtrade has become an everyday part of what we do and we are very glad to support it.”

Some producers in South Africa have moved away from the Fairtrade organisation, criticising its high premiums and heavy load of bureaucracy while continuing to do good work for their communities under the auspices of such alternative programmes as Fair For Life, Black Economic Empowerment and the Wine & Agricultural Ethical Trading Association.

Stellar Organics, whose wines are distributed in the UK by Ehrmanns, abandoned Fairtrade several years ago in favour of Fair For Life, which it said gave it more flexibility and resources to help its workers.

But for others, Fairtrade is the way. Bernard Fontannaz, managing director of Origin Wine, says the high costs are worth it because of the premium that goes back to the workers, and because the Fairtrade logo has the highest recognition of any ethically traded initiative.

He says: “It’s clear there are not a lot of very premium Fairtrade wines, but I don’t think Fairtrade wines are any less good than any other wines of the same price.

“It’s not about the quality of the wine, it’s about the way you do business. You treat people fairly, and if you don’t do that you have to ask questions about yourself.

“I think it is amazing that people ask, why do you do Fairtrade? It should be the norm. I do Fairtrade because it’s the right thing to do.”

He says producers should put Fairtrade on all their labels to show people they believe in its principles and to encourage more people to sign up to the initiative.

Paul Letheren, director of Off-Piste Wines, which works closely with Citrusdal Wines in the Cederberg Mountains, says: “How Fairtrade works is tangible. We do it and pay the Fairtrade premiums because I think it is the right thing to do.

“In terms of the quality of the wines you are not really paying any premium, you are making a choice to buy really good wines. I’d rather have the wine I want and Fairtrade as an added bonus, to make me feel good and go to heaven.”

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