Fair trade at a crossroads

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Temps de lecture : 2 minutes  

Although Max Havelaar decided to sell its fair trade certified products in supermarkets, Artisans du Monde, with a network of 160 sales outlets, fears that retailers are simply offering “cut-price” fair trade. Laurent Levard observes: “The risk is that multinationals create their own names without going through Max Havelaar. They could create competition between certification organizations and then choose the cheapest.” Michel-Edouard Leclerc expresses his desire to establish his retail name as the leader of fair trade in France. To achieve this, he intends to lower the prices of fair trade products: “The price of the raw material represents 15% of the cost of fair trade products,” states Leclerc. “In France, fair trade has a limited audience, preventing a maximum return on transport costs. Costs can also be lowered by reducing the number of middlemen.”

Despite this proactive stance, the director of the Leclerc supermarket chain does not plan on launching a distributor fair trade brand. “We have no interest in multiplying the number of labels. Consumers know Max Havelaar. If it’s not broken, why fix it?” Laurent Levard remains sceptical.“We ask Max Havelaar to be very strict regarding large-scale distribution. Fair trade is not negotiable. That is why we pay special attention to legislation.”

Indeed, there remains much work to do regarding legislation. An initial definition was given in article 60 of the loi du 2 août 2005 en faveur des PME (French law for small and medium-sized businesses of August 2, 2005), but it remains very vague. In January 2006, the French national standardization agency, AFNOR, published the Accord AC X50-340, a reference text which defines “the three principles of fair trade”: the balance of commercial relations between partners and co-contractors, advising of producers and producer organizations engaged in fair trade, and informing and increasing awareness of consumers, clients and the general public regarding fair trade. But the huge demand of large-scale distributors renders these guidelines inadequate. Hence the French National Commission on Fair Trade (Commission nationale du commerce équitable) was established by decree on May 3, 2006. The Commission will be made up of 8 government representatives, 8 NGOs and fair trade associations, 2 industry professionals, 2 consumer associations and 2 experts.

Victor Ferreira, the director of Association Max Havelaar France, praises this decree, which “clarifies things at a time when the idea of equity is becoming a marketing tool. There are initiatives which claim to be fair trade, without respecting international criteria. This minimal framework prevents companies from trumpeting whatever they like.” Nevertheless, the decree can be interpreted in different ways, and Victor Ferreira worries that “companies can still make use of labels to marketing ends rather than to the end of really improving development for producers in the South. They may well respect the letter of the law, but not the spirit of it.

“Le commerce équitable à la croisée des chemins”

Gaëlle BOHÉ

Published by Novethic on-line magazine

April 2006

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