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Fairtrade Foundation criticises Sainsbury's over tea move

Sainsbury's has come under fire from the Fairtrade Foundation over the supermarket's decision to launch its own brand of ethically-sourced tea.

The group plans to re-invest part of the money earned on own-brand tea bags into schemes that will help farmers build their businesses and protect the supply chain.

The pilot project - branded Fairly Traded - will offer farmers a guaranteed minimum price for their crop, as well as a "social premium" to invest in development programmes.

However, Fairtrade has criticised the move, claiming the programme will take control away from growers because they will no longer receive the social premium funds automatically.

The supermarket will provide the "social premium" - an extra payment on the basic price - through the Sainsbury's Foundation, which will help devise individual projects for farmers through an advisory board made up of academics, charities, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The firm said it will start selling boxes of Sainsbury's Fairly Traded Red Label Tea from June.

Group chief executive Mike Coupe said: "The business case is clear. Our farmers and growers can expect financial security through long-term relationships and a greater level of support to help them plan for their futures.

"At the same time, we safeguard the future quality and availability of the Great British cuppa for our customers."

Sainsbury's said the programme will help farmers access new markets, and shield their businesses from global competition, political upheaval and the threat of climate change.

However, the Fairtrade Foundation said it had "fundamental concerns" about the scheme and questioned whether it would deliver "positive changes" for farmers.

Michael Gidney, Fairtrade chief executive, said: "Whilst we welcome and expect companies to work towards improving social, economic and environmental outcomes within their supply chains, we don't believe the execution of this current model will, on balance, deliver positive changes for tea farmers.

"Therefore, at this stage we are unable to partner with the Sainsbury's Foundation as it does not yet meet our core principles, particularly in the area of producer empowerment.

"We're certain Sainsbury's will welcome further public scrutiny and we look forward to seeing their published plans for their tea pilot, including transparent standards, delivery plans and measurable outcomes at the earliest opportunity."

In an open letter to the supermarket, tea producers from Fairtrade Africa said the model would lead to "disempowerment".

Sainsbury's said the move will coincide with a new sustainability standards programme to establish a social, economic and environmental benchmark for 35 crops and ingredients.

It will also appoint an independent chairman to take charge of the advisory board, while also employing a big four auditor to oversee the support programme and its funding.

Oxfam warned that the new scheme could prove "potentially confusing for consumers".

Rachel Wilshaw, the charity's ethical trade manager, 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."

A spokesman for Sainsbury's added: "We would like to make absolutely clear that our farmers benefit from this pilot, as do our business and our customers. We are matching all the benefits of the Fairtrade model and building on them."

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