Cadbury's new Fairtrade look - how ethical is it?

Consumer pressure is ever mounting on manufacturers to up their ethical credentials, but most of the big firms are yet to go all the way.

Cadbury has just announced that it aims to achieve Fairtrade status for the cocoa in its Dairy Milk bar by this summer. Is it enough?

We don’t want to pooh-pooh the effort, because it’s very commendable to reduce your profit on the UK’s top-selling chocolate bar (300m a year) to help Ghanaian farmers. But we can’t help but think about where the cocoa beans for the other hundreds of products Cadbury’s sell are coming from.

Eileen Maybin from the Fairtrade Association, who is handling this switch, explains that there are as yet no solid plans to get other products Fairtrade accredited – although Cadbury are apparently open to more change.

And we also recall that Cadbury upped the prices of its products by 6-7% year on year as of last February – which they attributed at the time to the rising price of cocoa, but which may have coincidentally been planned to help cushion the added expense of Fairtrade.

Nevertheless, this has got them some good PR. But shouldn’t the switch to ethical be about more than just a few newspaper inches?

And let’s not overlook the fact that it’s only the cocoa in the bar that will be Fairtrade by the end of summer (it is being widely and wrongly reported that the whole bar is being Fairtrade accredited). Getting Fairtrade sugar, Maybin says, will not happen until next year.

It is a good start, and we imagine that it can’t be easy making a full transition to Fairtrade in one hit. But that doesn’t stop us hoping that this is just the tip of a pleasingly huge iceberg, rather than a quick publicity stunt to capitalise on the fair-trade trend.

Oh, and to re-publicise its Cadbury Cocoa Partnership, which is a £45m initiative to help secure sustainable cocoa farming in Ghana, Indonesia, the Caribbean and India. And whose first anniversary coincides with the announcement of Fairtrade Dairy Milk cocoa.

Again, it’s a great initiative, don’t get us wrong – but actions speak louder than words, and it’s all too easy for big corporations to generate great press releases giving the illusion of big change on the back of what is actually a fairly small one.

(By the by, though, this kind of PR should be duly noted by those of you doing your own publicity – i.e. tying in one piece of news with a broader picture of what you’re doing to bring a wider section of the business into focus, but with a good hook.)

After all, if Sainsbury’s can manage to become the biggest retailer of Fairtrade products - and it certainly hasn’t done them any harm – then surely other manufacturers of similar magnitude can make more sizeable changes than one bar.

We love the change, so congrats to all involved, but we suspect that more ethically-minded consumers will want to see more. And from the success of Sainsbury’s shift to a broader Fairtrade range, it could be a really positive move in terms of both ethics and sales if Cadbury up the ante even further.

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