Waitrose calls for Fair Trade for British Farmers

Waitrose called for a wider move towards Fair Trade for British Farmer's at the NFU Conference in Birmingham yesterday.

Waitrose's managing director Steve Esom said although the grocery industry had seen some sterling examples of best practice in recent years, it still had a situation where many primary producers faced "a climate of fear" where honesty and fairness were poorly evident.

He pointed to the fact that only seven farmers had made formal submissions to the Competition Commission and a recent poll by Farmers Weekly that showed 70% of farmers would not sign a supermarket contract if offered one.

He said: "Clearly there is a pressing need for supermarkets to move beyond islands of best practice and adopt a more consistent approach when working with farmers."

Esom added that it was important that farmers have a proper insight into the entire supply chain - from end to end.

At the same time he said: "Retailers need to realise that competition is not 'be all and end all' rather, recognise the value of our supply chains which are actually the backbone of our businesses."

Esom went on to talk about the need for differentiation as being the future of farming following a growing interest by consumers in food provenance issues.

This was an issue explored, he said, by former Waitrose chairman Sir Stuart Hampson, in his role of president of the Royal Agricultural Society last year in a report entitled "Differentiation: A sustainable future for UK agriculture.

The report argued that even the most efficient producers struggle to compete on grounds of price alone - in a commodity-driven globalised market.

Esom said: "For differentiation to work, there clearly needs to be educated and committed support from the government, retailer and consumer.

Waitrose, he added, had been a keen supporter of local and regional sourcing. It began its award-winning Locally Produced initiative in 2002, and were currently the only retailer to use a 30-mile definition of local. Under this scheme, suppliers may stock just a single branch, and Waitrose offers them the freedom to grow at their own pace.

Waitrose buyers, Esom, said were not philanthropic but had adopted commercial values that provide for a consistent approach, which addresses values in its broadest sense. "Our experience provides a powerful example of how profit and principles are not mutually exclusive."

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