Guy’s News: Auditing virtue

History tells us that no organisation is capable of reliable self-regulation, whether a newspaper, government, the police, the Catholic church and certainly not a supermarket; yet Sainsbury’s appear to be on the verge of ditching the established third-party Fairtrade Foundation certification system in favour of their own “fairly traded” labelling.

I do have some sympathy with Sainsbury’s on two counts; firstly, Fairtrade is far from being a perfect or complete solution to producer exploitation and secondly, the auditing of ethics can be an expensive and bureaucratic process. It is tempting to think that a commercially-focused organisation could do better on its own. Despite my own misgivings about Fairtrade (mainly around rewarding quality and securing long-term markets) my visits to, and contact with, producers has convinced me that despite its faults, it is by far the best option available and has delivered substantial gains for producers. As such we continue to support it through the certified bananas, pineapples, avocadoes and mangoes we sell. As for the cost; it must be accepted as the price of progress.

Riverford is currently moving towards employee ownership (EO), with staff due to take a 74% stake in May 2018. This has led to a lot of navel-gazing about what values Riverford stands for, and how we will protect them into the future. We have visited other values-driven and EO companies, studied their governance structures and researched what works and what doesn’t. Through this I have almost managed to grow out of my knee-jerk antagonism to the idea of someone else auditing my virtue.

Guy Watson

19 responses to “Guy’s News: Auditing virtue

  1. Employee ownership just makes me enjoy buying organic from Riverford even more

  2. Andrea Bradley

    If only we could believe that big companies are motivated by a genuine desire to do the right thing in the most efficient way, rather than suspect it’s because they want to appear to be doing good but are really just cutting corners. Or am I too cynical?

  3. You cannot be too cynical about the motives of big business! Animal welfare? Only if it looks good. Human welfare? Only if it doesn’t affect profits. Shareholders? Ah now you’re talking about the really important people.
    Well done, Riverford

  4. Yes, if we all supported Fair Trade people would be able to buy medicines, send their children to school and have a future. There would be less immigration.

  5. The throwaway opening assertion that the Catholic Church is not capable of self-regulation is simply not true. The Church has taken multiple measures to discipline miscreants, pay compensation, defrock errant clerics, etc. No other organisation or entity has ever gone to such lengths to purge evildoers and to avoid recurrence. May I say that a food blog is hardly the place to make such a tendentious claim.

  6. Beverley Prevatt Goldstein

    I am pleased with the progress about employee ownership and would welcome details, links for a nascent organisation I am advising.
    I also object to the singling out of the Catholic church. In no way is it free from blame but there are many others. I won’t mention them all as that would be to do likewise!

  7. On reading – the church is hardly being singled out as it is fourth on the list after newspapers, government and the police but it is higher than the supermarket.

  8. I share the concern re Sainsbury’s abandoning Fairtrade, and signed and shared the petition about it. As a result I received a lengthy email from their CEO which purports to argue that Sainsbury’s are not ditching Fairtrade but are trailing something which would be Fairtrade plus. Now I am no expert in this area and I don’t know if what the CEO is right or a smokescreen to cover other motives. I should be grateful if those who do understand would share their views on the reply, especially Guy, who not only understands fairness but also practices what he preaches. Meanwhile I suspend my judgement pending more information.

  9. I also have concerns about Sainsbury’s seeking their own “Fairtrade” mark (I believe other supermarkets are going the same way). To me, it is like putting a fox in charge of a chicken shed! As for the church being singled out – I don’t think so, because it is being used as one of several examples where the capability for self-regulation is being questioned.
    Guy, good luck with Employee Ownership.

  10. Will long standing customers who have helped to expand the business be able to buy shares ?

  11. How about ensuring you ONLY sell organic produce. It’s a bit flipping annoying when you drive down to your farm shop from central Devon only to find shelves of stuff marked “Cornish Non-Organic”.

    What’s the point!? I can get that stuff down my local supermarket!!

    • I’ve got to agree with this comment. What’s the point in banging on about how good and ethical you are if your farm shop sells non-organic produce.

      It just makes you wonder

      a) are you slipping in non-organic produce elsewhere?;

      b) what your company’s angle with this non-organic producer???

      • Hi Paul,

        As mentioned to Roger, the farm shops are no longer Riverford, but now Ben’s Farm Shop. Ben is Guy’s brother. The name and brand change was recently introduced to avoid this exact confusion.

        The farm shops’ focus is more on local produce, rather than organic. It became quite misleading calling it the Riverford farm shop because there were a lot of non-Riverford items for sale, in terms of veg and other items, and as you’ve noticed it’s also not all organic.

        Sorry for any confusion, but we are separate businesses.

    • Hi Roger,

      You may have noticed that the farm shops have also changed name, to Ben’s Farm Shop. Ben is Guy’s brother and runs the farm shops. The name and brand change was recently introduced to avoid this exact confusion.

      The farm shops’ focus is more on local produce, rather than organic. It became quite misleading calling it the Riverford farm shop because there were a lot of non-Riverford items for sale, in terms of veg and other items, and as you’ve noticed it’s also not all organic.

      Sorry for any confusion, but we are separate businesses.

  12. Hi Guy,
    I run an Oxfordshire based family commercial property business. While not an EO company, I have successfully introduced Purpose, Values and Principles into the business. The culture is now one where we put People before Profit. The team have taken this on board so well that I have been able to hand over the reins and watch with pride from the side-lines as the culture deepens. Team members benefit not from share ownership, but from sure knowledge that as they grow in confidence so the business grows and so their salaries grow. Happy to chat on the phone, or if you have time or are passing, please come and visit.
    http://www.jennings.co.uk and http://www.jenningsbusinessmentors.org

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