Rt Hon Gareth Thomas MP, the UK government’s Trade and Development Minister, says: "I am glad to see Kit Kat become Fairtrade certified, giving more British shoppers the chance to improve the lives of some of the world’s poorest people. This will give thousands of Ivorian cocoa farmers better opportunities to trade their way out of poverty."
This has appeared in many of the media reports about the launch. I emailed Mr. Thomas to ask if he was aware of the context of this announcement: 99% of the cocoa Nestlé sources is outside the Fairtrade scheme and that Nestlé has been taken to court in the US for failing to act on its 2001 commitment to address child labour and slavery in its cocoa supply chain from Ivory Coast.
I'll give the full text below. I am still awaiting a reply. But it seems I am not alone in questioning the Minister of his uncritical support. A press release from the United Nations Department of Public Information regarding a press conference Mr. Thomas gave today (9 December) contains the following:
Mr. Thomas was also asked to comment on his praise for Nestlé UK, whose Kit Kat chocolates would be Fair Trade-certified in Britain beginning in 2010, although Nestlé had faced controversy in the past for its marketing tactics in developing countries. He stressed that, under the Fair Trade deal, cocoa farmers from Côte d'Ivoire earned additional money on top of the agreed price of the cocoa bought by Nestlé, to be used for development purposes. At the moment, the United Kingdom was pursuing the goal of doubling the number of supermarket goods sourced from Africa.
This is exactly what Nestlé was buying with Fairtrade certification for its 4-bar KitKat - a diversion from other issues. Including the fact that 2-bar KitKats and all other Nestlé chocolate is outside the scheme.
From the Fairtrade Foundation we see that the additional money is US$150 per tonne and Nestlé is to buy 4,300 tonnes in 2010, which is US$645,000 (about £400,000).
Great for the farmers, but small change for Nestlé - in August, Nestlé launched a Nescafé promotion in the UK costing £43 million.
So by investing just 1% of a UK Nescafé advertising campaign in sourcing Fairtrade cocoa for 4-bar KitKat, it has generated stories around the world suggesting it is doing something significant to improve the lives of farmers in Ivory Coast and has a UK Government Minister spreading the same misinformation to the media and at the UN. The logo on the KitKat and associated advertising will do the same job in the longer term.
It would have been welcome if the Minister had said something like:
"Fairtrade certification is making a real difference to people's lives. This example is good news for the 6,000 farmers involved, but Nestlé still has to change how it deals with the farmers providing 99% of its cocoa which is outside the scheme and it should live up to its commitments to the Harkin-Engel Protocol. It promised to end child labour and slavery in its cocoa supply chain by 2006, but has not done so. It has been taken to court in the US, but has repeatedly argued that it is just buying a product when it comes to cocoa and is not responsible for egregious labor rights violations involved in its production. If it changed that position it would have a far wider impact than the Fairtrade certification for one product sold in just two countries."
If he was really interested in shifting Nestlé's corporate ethos, he could have added: "We should also not lose sight of the fact that Nestlé continues to violate the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly and that complaints about this and alleged human rights abuses have been filed with the UN Global Compact Office by experts on its practices, calling for it to be excluded."
Is it too much to expect the Minister of State for International Development to see the broader picture and not act as an unpaid Public Relations spokesperson for Nestlé?
If our leaders were prepared to speak the truth then campaigners would not have such a tough job forcing changes on corporations such as Nestlé.
This was the message I sent to Mr. Thomas on Monday (bad grammar corrected):
Dear Mr. Thomas MP,
I have seen your comments regarding the award of Fairtrade certification to some Nestlé KitKats (4-finger products only). In making your comment I wonder if you are aware of the context? Nestlé has been taken to court in the US for failing to act on a 2001 agreement to end child slavery in its cocoa supply chain and in the past has boycotted a meeting by Senator Horkins (co-sponsor of the Horkins-Engel Protocol in the US) called to examine lack of progress. There are 11 million people dependent on cocoa farming in West Africa, many of them dependent on Nestlé. The KitKat products involved in this scheme will benefit only 6,000 farmers. There is a danger that the improved conditions for the 6,000 farmers will divert attention from the many others outside the scheme, and be used deliberately to this end by Nestlé.
Stop the Traffik, founded by Steve Chalke, the United Nations Special Advisor on Community Action Against Human Trafficking, said in response to the announcement that ‘two finger’ Kit Kats and all of Nestlé's other chocolate products: “"will continue to exploit the chocolate slaves of the Ivory Coast from where Nestlé source most of their cocoa"”. See:
I am trying to find out how many cocoa farmers are dependent on Nestlé specifically to see if this is a similar situation to its Fairtrade coffee, which involves just 0.1% of the coffee farmers dependent on it, but is used to suggest it is making a huge difference, providing cover for continued unethical practices.
In addition, Nestlé is the most boycotted company in the UK and one of the four most boycotted companies on the planet according to GMIPoll because of the way it pushes its breastmilk substitutes. Nestlé systematically breaches the baby milk marketing standards adopted by the World Health Assembly, undermines breastfeeding and contributes to the unnecessary death and suffering of babies. According to UNICEF, 1.5 million babies die around the world every year because they are not breastfed. Even Nestlé's Global Public Affairs Manager, Dr. Gayle Crozier Willi, admitted in 2007 that Nestlé is 'widely boycotted'.
Fairtrade KitKat will be added to the boycott list. The boycot has forced some changes in Nestlé marketing practices and policies, but the company, the market leader, refuses to make all necessary changes and is still the worst of the baby food companies. At the present time it is being targeted for practices that include claiming its infant formula 'protects' babies - it does not, babies fed on it are more likely to become sick than breastfed babies and in conditions of poverty, they are more likely to die.
Its Fairtrade product should be seen in this context.
Please see my blogs on this topic, which includes a quote from me: