Manufacturing giant Tate & Lyle's decision to switch its retail cane sugars range to Fair Trade has been welcomed by development campaigners and church aid agencies - but the need to move the social justice agenda in economics remains, they say.
The widely publicised decision marks the largest-ever switch to the recognised 'ethical labelling' scheme by any major UK food or drink brand. The company has worked in partnership with the Fairtrade Foundation and its international scheme to help cane farmers in Northern Belize meet Fairtrade standards. This includes working with the sole sugar processor in the country, Belize Sugar.
The company aims to get all its retail sugar under the Fairtade mark by 2009. The move was announced at the beginning of Fairtrade Fortnight, a major promotional initiative
The decision was dismissed this weekend by free market think-tanks who oppose attempts to 'engineer' markets. However, others argue that "freedom without fairness is a fallacy" and point out that even with fair trade provisions, the scale of overall inequality and the poverty of many communities involved in exporting basic producers remains in tact.
There are also questions about whether bench marks are being set too low in the effort to get people on board with fairer practices. Nonetheless, campaigners believe that welcoming big companies when they seek to change is important, rather than simply highlighting the undoubted scale of what needs to be done. And they say action like that taken by Tate & Lyle will demonstrably improve people's lives.
George Gelber, long-standing head of policy at the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development, told Independent Catholic News: "Tate and Lyle's decision to make sure all its retail branded sugar is Fairtrade by 2009 is a huge boost for the small-scale growers of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers' Association. Tate and Lyle's decision couldn't come at a better time. With changes in EU trade rules, small farmers will increasingly find themselves in competition with some of the world's most efficient and low cost producers."
Gelber added: "It is now up to us to choose Fairtrade whenever we buy sugar, confident that the Fairtrade premium represents a more secure future for farmers and their families. Hopefully many more small-scale growers will become Fairtrade producers in the coming years."