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Sat, Oct 08, 2005 - Page 12 News List

Nestle's Fairtrade coffee gets mixed reaction from critics

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Nestle, the world's largest and most ethically questioned food and drink company, on Thursday launched a Fairtrade-certified coffee brand in the UK. But the initiative divided the company's critics, some of whom congratulated it for encouraging the growth of fair trade, while others said it was a cynical attempt to improve the company's global reputation.

Nestle, which has a turnover of US$67 billion and buys 750,000 tonnes of coffee beans a year, refused to say how much fairly traded coffee it was expecting to sell under its new Partners' Blend label, but said it was serious about wanting to improve the conditions of small farmers in Africa and Latin America.

Nestle said that it was spending ?1 million (US$1.8 million) promoting its new brand and a similar amount supporting health and education projects for its new suppliers in Ethiopia and El Salvador.

Like other buyers of fairly traded coffee, it had paid more than the world market price as well as a premium which cooperative workers would decide how to spend.

Harriet Lamb, director of the Fairtrade Foundation, which inspected the company's suppliers and awarded the mark, said: "This has to be a small step in the right direction. Here is a multinational listening to people and giving them what they want."

But some charities and pressure groups said that Nestle and other coffee companies had been partly responsible for driving down coffee bean prices to levels where small farmers could not survive.

John Hilary, policy director at War on Want, said: "The fair trade movement was set up to challenge the practices of companies like Nestle. How can such a company deserve the fair trade mark?"

Harriet Binet of Oxfam, one of the six British charities which set up the Fairtrade Foundation, said: "There is a world coffee crisis, with 25 million farmers suffering. The big four roasters, including Nestle, have made a fortune at their expense."

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