Some farmers said they'd used different kinds of pesticides, but none of them worked. Picture: Khaled Elfiqi

JOHANNESBURG - From cocoa to tea food and drink giants are setting their own standards for ethical sourcing of raw materials and moving away from third party labels such as Fairtrade.

Mondelez International -the owner of chocolate brands Cadbury and Toblerone; Unilever, behind tea brands such as Lipton and PG Tips; and Barry Callebaut, the world’s biggest producer of chocolate and cocoa products - have all introduced their own schemes.

They say their targets are more comprehensive and some claim their schemes are more effective in tracking whether a product is ethically sourced every step of the way. With companies under financial pressure, analysts say it has also been a way to save money. But critics are worried that the standards that third party groups such as UTZ Certified or Rainforest Alliance have fought to establish risk being muddled and what is deemed ethical and sustainable could become more ambiguous.

“Standards measuring environmental and social issues need to be transparent because, once this process happens behind closed doors, it is difficult to see how companies and farms apply them,” said Sloane Hamilton, a labour rights policy adviser at Oxfam, a charity alleviating poverty. “We don’t want to see standards watered down and neither do we want customers to be faced by a bewildering proliferation of different certification schemes.”

Third party certifiers are not opposed to all self-certification, even though the loss of fees could threaten their future. Rather, they are worried that standards could become meaningless if too many companies set their own criteria.

Fairtrade

Mondelez started selling the first Green & Black’s chocolate in the UK without a Fairtrade logo in August, more than 23 years after the brand’s Maya Gold bar received Britain’s first mark. The bar instead carries the stamp of “Cocoa Life”, a Mondelez scheme started in 2012 with goals including improved productivity, protection of fertile land and gender equality in farming communities.

Mondelez says Fairtrade is still an “implementing partner” and the group’s auditing arm is used to vet cocoa sourced through “Cocoa Life”.

Fairtrade, an NGO aims to push for a better deal for farmers and workers in developing nations. It sets standards, including a minimum price for raw materials and requires companies to contribute towards businesses or community projects. 

- REUTERS