Leading social entrepreneur says much still to be done to make trade fairer images

Leading social entrepreneur says much still to be done to make trade fairer

Sophi Tranchell, Managing Director of Divine Chocolate, one of the UK’s most successful Fairtrade businesses, gave Scotland’s Fair Trade Nation Lecture in Glasgow on Thursday 10 April 2014. The annual lecture organised by the Scottish Fair Trade Forum and hosted by Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) is the second time the event has taken place – the first was at University of Edinburgh last year when Scotland achieved Fair Trade Nation status.

Sophi Tranchell is the managing director of the pioneering farmer-owned Fairtrade chocolate company Divine, first appointed back in 1999 when the company was a year old. Since then she has worked very closely with cocoa farmers in Ghana, challenging the industry to change, competing with huge corporations for market space, while coping with fluctuating currencies, and the roller coaster of a volatile economic situation. Farmers from the Kuapa Kokoo co-operative in Ghana own 45% of Divine and sit on the board. Divine Chocolate is a growing company with a multi-million pound turnover and a presence in the UK and worldwide.

As Professor John Lennon, Vice Dean of the Glasgow Caledonian University School for Business and Society, said they were delighted to be hosting the annual Fair Trade Nation Lecture. GCU was awarded Fairtrade status two years ago in recognition of the university’s ongoing commitment to supporting and using Fairtrade products throughout the campus, from the boardroom to the student refectory and cafes. 

Martin Rhodes, Director of the Scottish Fair Trade Forum commented “It’s testament to Scotland’s status as a Fair Trade Nation that Sophi Tranchell was giving this important lecture. And the message is clear we have achieved a lot but there is still much more to be done to shift the balance of power in global trade in favour of small-holder farmers.”

In her lecture, Sophi took the audience through the history of Divine as a company and talked about the challenges of the UK chocolate market. 80% of the UK chocolate market was and still is controlled by only three companies - Cadbury, Mars and Nestlé.

Sophi described that Divine’s business model differs from that of the major chocolate companies. As the business is owned and run by 45% of the farmers who produce the cocoa used for the production of chocolate, they actively participate in the decision-making processes of the company and are therefore credited with much valued ownership and recognition for their work. One of the first things she learned while visiting Ghana for the first time was that majority of the cocoa farmers had no idea where the cocoa sold went and how chocolate actually looked and tasted.

Apart from the well-known benefits of Fair Trade for the members of the Kuapa Kokoo co-operative, Sophi also highlighted the importance of Fair Trade as a movement. She pointed out the dangers of consumers mistaking the Fairtrade mark for a brand rather than a third party verified certification given out to products satisfying strict sets of standards. She states that Divine chocolate values very highly the third party verification system of the Fairtrade certification as it proves they satisfy all the rigorous requirements set by Fairtrade and do not compromise in any way.

Divine’s work is very determined in taking Fairtrade further beyond what is required by the basic Fairtrade standards. As an example, Sophi stressed that Divine will always strive to keep up with traceability of all their ingredients.

She also dedicated part of the lecture to the need to spread a more positive and lasting impact of sustainable ways of leading businesses. The debate extended to the issues of current mainstreaming of Fairtrade. A number of multinational corporations have entered the Fairtrade market and all the main competitors to Divine: Cadbury, Mars and Nestlé, are now selling Fairtrade products. Many Fair Trade campaigners are posing questions whether Fair Trade continues to present an alternative trading system and whether the big players in the international markets are changing the way they conduct their business in order to incorporate Fair Trade principles or whether it is precisely these companies influencing changes in the Fair Trade movement to better suit the conditions they operate in.

Sophi argued: “… We still need fundamental changes in the way business is done to ensure these farmers can afford to carry on feeding us, and take an active, sustainably remunerated, and empowered role in the food supply chain.”

Sophi also highlighted the particular effort the Scottish nation has put into growing the Fair Trade movement, and referred to issues facing sugar growers in Malawi. In 2017, the EU sugar quota cap will be removed and this will result in a preferential advantage for European sugar production as the sugar prices will be pushed down and Malawian sugar farmers will be priced out of the European market; a crucial destination for their exports.