Leonie Barrie | 30 October 2006
Why has news that the Sainsbury’s supermarket has become the latest retailer to jump onto the ethical bandwagon been greeted with such scorn? The company today revealed plans to use Fairtrade cotton in its best-selling TU clothing range – an admirable move you would have thought – thus becoming the latest in a flurry of fashion firms to cash in on the new wave of environmentally conscious consumers.
But at the same time as it was unveiling its latest offering for the new “consumer with a conscience,” campaign group Labour Behind the Label stepped into the ring to point out that buying fair trade cotton only guarantees benefits for the farmers and doesn’t necessarily translate to good working conditions across the rest of the production process. And somehow it seems just a tad hypocritical that Sainsbury’s will be selling its Fairtrade lines alongside GBP35 cashmere jumpers and men’s tailored suit jackets for GBP39 – prices at which it will have negotiated heavily to drive costs out of the supply chain.
Now this isn’t intended to be a slur against Sainsbury’s – just to point out that for most retailers the new-found interest in the concept of fair trade doesn’t sit too well alongside the relentless drive for higher profits. And it seems I’m not the only cynical one. A report in The Observer newspaper yesterday suggests the recent plethora of 'green' or ethical supermarket initiatives is partly an attempt to pre-empt legislation to curb their wasteful, non-eco ways – and is at least as strong is their desire and need to appease the conscientious consumer.
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