Furnishing your home just got fairer

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

B&Q, Britain's largest home improvement retailer, has announced on 28 July 2010 that it will be selling its first Fairtrade products in store this year.

From August 2010, B&Q will sell a range of Fairtrade cotton bedding in 100 stores. 2010 is an important milestone as it marks the fifth year anniversary of the introduction of Fairtrade cotton into the UK market.

In our press packs at the recent B&Q press event on Wednesday, July 28, 2010, we received a set of this cotton bedlinen and the quality appear to be good and – considering it is Fairtrade cotton – the pricing is rather very good, I should think.

With £6.98 for a pair of Housewife Pillowcases and £ 16.98 for a double fitted sheet they are not pricey considering, as said, that the goods are Fairtrade.

There are now over 100 Fairtrade cotton licensees in the UK – a mixture of brands, retailers and companies. This enables them to use the FAIRTRADE Certification Mark on cotton products, meaning that cotton farmers in the developing world are getting a better deal: receiving a fair and stable Fairtrade Minimum Price for their cotton in addition to the Fairtrade Premium.

Fairtrade cotton began with ten small pioneer companies selling clothing using cotton grown by farmers from nine countries in the developing world. As many as 100 million rural households around the world are involved in cotton production. Most are small-scale cotton farmers especially vulnerable to exploitation and injustice from international trade rules.

Fairtrade offers a positive alternative to thousands of cotton farmers in India and in countries as widespread as Senegal, Burkina Faso, Egypt and Mali in West Africa, Peru and Egypt. Fairtrade certification brings cotton farmers the assurance of a fair and stable minimum price. They also receive the Fairtrade Premium – additional funds to invest in social or economic development projects. The Premium is most often invested in education and healthcare, farm improvements to increase yield and quality, or processing facilities to increase income. These projects can bring long-lasting positive change to the whole community.

The benefits from sales of Fairtrade certified cotton have allowed farmers in India to develop basic health insurance schemes for themselves and health awareness programs for their children. In Mali, farmers have been able to fund the building of storage units for cotton and grain, enabling them to store food all year round and better control the sales of their cotton over the seasons, bringing them a more consistent income.

B&Q is also one of the stakeholder partners working with Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International (FLO) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) in their pilot program to explore how FLO’s recently announced Fairtrade Timber standard can extend the benefits of Fairtrade to Small-Scale Producers in the forestry sector through FLO/FSC joint-labeling of timber products. The partnership will enable the organizations involved to meet shared strategic objectives and enable forest communities to earn improved returns for their timber which is sourced in a responsible way.

Rob Cameron, Chief Executive of Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International (FLO) says: “We congratulate B & Q on taking this decision in what is a historic year for Fairtrade cotton in the UK. Every additional Fairtrade product sold brings us closer to our vision of giving all farmers and workers the prospect of a sustainable livelihood and a better future for themselves and their communities. With that in mind, we are very much looking forward to deepening our relationship with B & Q and other like-minded organizations in the future, and working together towards this goal.”

Euan Sutherland, CEO of B&Q and Kingfisher UK says; “We hope today’s announcement marks the first of many Fairtrade products that we are able to introduce in to our customers homes. With Fairtrade cotton we are following the fashion industry’s lead and will certainly look to introduce more lines in to our home furnishing ranges. The opportunity to be involved in FLO/FSC certified timber as a participant in the pilot project is an exciting development. It enables B&Q to be at the forefront in bringing joint Fairtrade/FSC labeled timber products to market which will be a key innovation for the sector. It provides the opportunity to literally transform the lives of forest communities at the same time as promoting responsible forest management.”

Earlier this year B&Q announced its intention to be the first UK retailer to source all of its timber from only proven, well managed forests or recycled material. This commitment and this announcement about Fairtrade builds on the company’s long heritage in this area. B&Q was a founding partner of FSC back in the 1990s; gained chain-of-custody certification for both FSC and PEFC (recording the path wood products take from the forest to the final consumer) back in 2008; and last year became the first ever retailer of its size to secure FSC certification for its entire supply of tropical plywood.

When it comes to FSC and plywood the jury is out still in some cases. There have been documented incidents when wood was FSC certified even when it did not come from sustainable sources and as to plywood and green and eco there is the issue with the bonding glues and other treatments.

However, B&Q must be applauded for having been in the forefront of wanting to do right for a considerable number of years by now with all the others trailing.

© 2010