Cadbury announced yesterday that it will become the largest candy company in Canada to sell fair-trade-certified chocolate, a move that proponents hope will push its competitors to follow suit - but that also raises concerns about the future of the cause.
Starting next summer, Cadbury's Dairy Milk bars will carry an internationally recognized fair-trade logo, a mark that tells consumers that cocoa producers were paid a good wage for their crop. The company also said it will provide additional money for community improvements in Ghana, where its chocolate is sourced. In total, 11 per cent of the Cadbury products sold in Canada will be certified.
"Companies should be responsible about where they source," said Luisa Girotto, vice-president of corporate affairs for Cadbury North America.
The term "fair trade" is used to describe a system of commerce under which producers, often in developing countries, receive fair payment for their goods, usually more than they would receive on the open market. Also, buyers typically help producers develop their communities by funding improvements to health care or education, for instance. Some of the biggest fair-trade product categories are bananas, coffee, cocoa, quinoa, flowers, sugar, tea and wine.
But as the movement gains ground among consumers, some experts question whether certification bodies are embracing the growing corporate presence too eagerly.
Fair trade is fast becoming a lucrative niche market in Canada, growing 67 per cent last year, according to Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO), which sets the standards for certifying products, including the Cadbury bars.
Gary Scullion, general manager of Cadbury Canada, said that while fair trade is "still relatively unknown" to many Canadians, retailers who sell Cadbury's chocolate report the number of consumers asking for fair-trade products has been "increasing significantly."
Cadbury is just the latest in a string of international corporations to introduce a few fair-trade products. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. announced earlier this month that its Sam's Club stores in the United States will sell a few types of fair-trade coffee from Brazil.
Rob Clarke, executive director of TransFair Canada, a member of FLO and a national certification body, said he hopes Cadbury's announcement will prompt other companies to see the benefit of investing in the fair-trade market.
"If every corporation moved some purchases to being fair trade, [it]would have a huge impact worldwide," Mr. Clarke said.
But Darryl Reed, co-ordinator of the Business and Society program at York University, said the changing landscape may be cause for concern as well as celebration.
Traditionally, most fair-trade-certified companies focused only on that market. But for some of the larger companies now entering the fray, fair trade is just a fraction of their overall business. This raises fears they won't be committed to the cause, Prof. Reed said.
Although fair-trade producers selling to corporations are guaranteed a higher price, Prof. Reed wonders whether they will receive the same level of community-based support as they would from a company dedicated solely to fair-trade buying and selling.
"The producers are not their primary concern," he said. "Shareholders are."
Finding a balance between raising consumer awareness and sticking to the movement's original tenets could become a major challenge for fair-trade organizations, Prof. Reed said.
The cause may also have to contend with other growing pains. Increasing consumer awareness of the designation has prompted some companies to use similar labels such as "eco-friendly" or "direct trade" - terms that give an impression products are ethically sourced, but that may lack the consistency and credibility offered by the official certification process.
Ms. Girotto said Cadbury is fully committed to helping its cocoa producers, and plans to keep expanding its fair-trade program as more farmers in Ghana meet the certification standards.
Dairy Milk bars sold in Australia and New Zealand will also carry the fair-trade-certified logo, the company said. A similar initiative was rolled out in Britain and Ireland earlier this year.
"It's definitely the right thing to do, period, by the farmers," she said. "That's the No. 1 reason we're doing this."