French fair-trade sector seeks revival after crisis dip

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France’s appetite for fair-trade products lags behind European counterparts, with the sector turning increasingly to producers in the developing world for a recovery solution, EURACTIV France and Germany report.

While widely available in specialist stores and French supermarkets, products bearing the ‘fair-trade’ label have suffered during the economic crisis.

Sales have slumped since 2007, with France’s per capita consumption of €6.4 well behind other European countries such as Switzerland or the United Kingdom, where the consumer spends on average more than €34 over the year.

In Belgium, the sale of fair-trade goods grew by 12% in 2012 compared to the previous year. Fair-trade label Max Havelaar Belgium foresees a further growth of 15% for 2013. In Switzerland, the sale of fair-trade products grew by 14.3% in 2012 compared to the previous year.

The unfavourable comparisons have left the French lamenting the domestic sector’s untapped potential. Fearing a further slip, Development Minister Pascal Canfin and Social Economy and Solidarity Minister Benoît Hamon announced on 29 April a plan to inject some €7 million into the flagging sector.

Networks

The money will both beef up the distribution capacity of small producers in the developing world and retailers already present on the French market.

But demand is more of an issue than production. The plan will target principally large and medium-sized distributors, where there is the biggest growth potential, says Julie Stoll of the French fair-trade platform PFCE (Plate-forme pour le Commerce Equitable)

Fair-trade networks have started to take off in developing countries. Growers of coffee, sugar, cocoa and cotton are desperate to get on the circuit, as their products are priced low in conventional markets.

“It is no longer a niche,” said Ignatius Coussement, of food producers association for the developing world Agricord.

Fair-trade contracts set a sale price which covers the manifold costs of small-scale producers. As the farmers receive partial funding pre-production, the contracts ensure that they receive a regular flow of income. The final piece in the jigsaw, development premiums allow producer organisations to support their investment in farm-holders.

Local interests

The contracts also contain social and environmental clauses to ensure that protection of local natural resources.

For example, rural communities in Bolivia producing quinoa “they themselves included sustainability standards with fair-trade certification bodies”, said Thierry Winkel, head of the environmental division of France’s Institute for Research and Development (IRD – Institut de recherche pour le développement).

But this case remains an exception. Needing to a quick sale to maintain their livelihood, small producers in the South agree contracts with food businesses promising large-scale distribution but which eventually protect less their local interests.

“The small producers lack the ability to meet the market standards – hygiene, traceability and health – to enter the European and North American markets,” said the development economist Gaëlle Balineau, of the University of Auvergne’s development research institute CERDI (Centre d’études et de recherches sur le développement international).

Meeting these standards poses a headache for producers wishing to be commercially viable and fair trade. On top of prices, “the criteria set out in the contracts require more effort or a reallocation of work times between different cultures which are destined for food or perennial,” said Balineau.

Other impacts, such as the economic and social development of a region through fair-trade ventures, are also difficult to quantify, she added.

Sergi Corbalán, executive director of the Fair-Trade Advocacy Office, told EURACTIV: “It is encouraging to see that, despite the crisis, EU citizens are continuing to choose for Fair Trade. EU policy makers should not turn a dear ear to the clear and loud message coming from Europe’s high street. Fair Trade, as a best practice inclusive business model making trade work for the most disadvantaged, should be part of the future global sustainable development framework once the current Millennium Development Goals come to an end in 2015”.

Fair trade goods offer local producers a better deal and improved terms of trade.

It is based on a partnership between producers and consumers, which offers shoppers a way to reduce poverty abroad through their every day shopping.

The Fairtrade Mark means the producers and traders have met Fairtrade Standards designed to address the imbalance of power in trading relationships, unstable markets and the injustices of conventional trade.

  • 11 May: World Fair Trade day (always the 2nd Saturday of May)

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