'Corporate sector wants to submerge fair trade in aggressive marketing'

Gradually sustainability becomes a serious issue for a growing number of Belgian entrepreneurs. The way they approach the idea of fair trade does not make everybody happy.
Recently the Federation of Enterprises in Belgium (FEB) wanted to make their interest in sustainability clear by presenting a  list of examples of sustainable trade: Utz Certified for coffee, FSC for wood, ethical jeans of UCO Raymond (at the moment only available in Germany), etc.  These are all initiatives whereby companies do more on social or environmental levels than legally required.  The FEB also had another message concerning sustainable entrepreneurship: Let a thousand flowers bloom! (freely translated from Mao Zedong)
This is how the FEB opposes the current parliamentary initiatives to legally define fair trade.  According to the FEB sustainable initiatives need to satisfy only two conditions:  the company follows a certain amount of social and environmental rules and a professional guarantee system is implemented in order to control certain issues.  FEB director Rudi Thomaes doesn’t believe that the multiplicity of sustainable initiatives could be confusing for the consumer: ‘The market of sustainable products is a market like many others.’  He points out that consumers also find their way through the multiplicity of different kinds of raincoats or cars.  The fact that these are products that consumers can test theirselves for quality, while the ‘sustainability’ of coffee or jeans isn’t subject to such a self test, doesn’t convince Thomaes.  ‘There are already too many laws in this country, and even much more in Flanders then in Walloon.’
Koen Van Bockstal, delegated manager of the Oxfam World shops, regrets this position of the FEB:’ Look, we appreciate all these sustainability initiatives of companies.  It is a positive development and now, in contrast to what happened before, we acknowledge that.  However, there is a difference between sustainable trade and fair trade.  Fair trade offers the producers in developing countries a minimum price from which they are able not only to survive but also to build capacities.  Clearly defining what exactly is fair trade and what isn’t, doesn’t diminish all the other initiatives.  Also, every company is free to do fair trade.’ 
Van Bockstal suspects that companies especially fear that they will not win public invitations to tender because of fair trade.  ‘This also doesn’t make sense because Miko and Java often win the invitations to tender specifically because they do fair trade.  Let us call a spade a spade:  initiatives such as Utz or Kolibri are valuable even though they are not fair trade.  As long as this is not legally defined, companies who have the marketing means will drown us in a sea of sustainable initiatives.’ (jvd)

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