THE LITTLE green frog took a bit of a kicking in a recent episode of BBC’s File on Four.
The programme visited a number of tea plantations certified by the Rainforest Alliance and found underage workers, people spraying chemicals without protective equipment and “living and working conditions are so bad, and wages so low, that tea workers and their families are left malnourished and vulnerable to fatal illnesses”. PG Tips’ owner Unilever, Tetley’s Tata, Harrods and Twinings were also exposed.
The Rainforest Alliance is investigating the allegations. If there has been foul play, the farms could lose their certification. The system isn’t perfect, a spokesman told the BBC, given that the audits are only on an annual basis.
This isn’t the first ethical label that has been peeled back to reveal a few warts. Fairtrade, where quality has been an issue in some commodities like coffee, has been criticised as “fantastic at making rich Europeans think that they are good and fantastic at making money for European companies”.
Ethical certification is undoubtedly big business, but the business case for it is eroding fast. Nestlé’s corporate head of agriculture told Footprint last year that “we cannot certify people out of poverty” and even suggested that some ethical certification schemes are “cheating consumers”.
More and more companies want to take things into their own hands – think direct trade. It can be more costly. They also lose the independent verification offered through a green frog or Fairtrade badge, but if those schemes can’t be trusted to deliver, then why not go it alone?
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