Valio joins Fairtrade to tackle the challenges of the wild berry industry in Finland

Valio joins Fairtrade to tackle the challenges of the wild berry industry in Finland
Photo - Valio

Fairtrade Finland has initiated a pilot project in collaboration with several companies, representing the entire supply chain of the wild berry industry. The aim of the pilot project is to create local certification criteria for wild berries to tackle the challenges related to the berry picking industry in Finland.

Fairtrade Finland, together with companies representing the entire supply chain, is starting to solve the human rights challenges revealed in the domestic berry-picking activities. The core focus of the project is on the concerns related to the berry picking conditions, earnings and recruitment costs of the foreign workers who come to Finland during the berry picking season 2024.

“Fairtrade has decades of experience in developing countries for preventing the types of human rights risks that also affect wild berry picking in Finland. I believe that by working together with the pickers, the supply chain and our stakeholders, we can also find sustainable solutions to these issues in Finland,” says Fairtrade Finland’s executive director Janne Sivonen.

The pilot project will be implemented in cooperation with Finnish business partners. Kesko, Valio, Polarica Group and Arctic International are committed to the project. Covering the entire supply chain, the pilot project will determine whether it is possible to establish certification criteria for domestic wild berries that comply with the Fairtrade criteria that take human rights comprehensively into account, and which the supply chain could then put into practice starting from the recruitment of the berry-pickers and covering the entire berry production process. The pilot project will run until autumn 2024, and the criteria will be ready for this summer’s picking season.

The criteria for Fairtrade certification are the most researched and ambitious in the world. The berry criteria now being drawn up will create a completely new operating model for Finland’s wild berry industry, aimed to bring about concrete changes in the work conditions, earnings, recruitment practices and costs as well as freedom of association. A broad, multisectoral group of stakeholders will be consulted when creating the criteria, including the pickers, companies, and authorities. The criteria will comply with international human rights norms, such as the principles of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Aiming for responsibly produced domestic wild berries

The retail sector is hoping to procure responsibly produced domestic wild berries for its selections and to continue the work that has already started to promote responsibility in the wild berry industry.

“We have long-term, systematic cooperation with our partners to ensure the responsibility of the products. This pilot project is a continuation of the close discussions with the suppliers, and to solve the challenges of the berry industry, it is important that the whole supply chain is involved in the pilot. Fairtrade was selected as a partner based on its social responsibility expertise. In addition, the consumers are already familiar with the Fairtrade brand,” says Timo Jäske, Sustainability Director for Kesko’s grocery trade division.

“Our aim is to buy responsibly produced domestic wild berries. To ensure this, we call for active cooperation between the berry picking companies, berry buyers, non-governmental organizations and supervisory authorities. With Fairtrade’s expertise, experience and international networks, our goal is to create the criteria and an operating model that promotes ethical berry picking in Finland. Last summer, we updated Valio’s procurement requirements for domestic berries and commissioned an audit of the social responsibility related to berry picking. The pilot project will continue this work,” says Valio’s sustainability director Hanna Hiekkamies.

Polarica and Arctic International have operated in the domestic berry industry for a long time and see development opportunities for the entire industry in the pilot project.

“Polarica is committed to responsible operating methods and we want to renew the berry industry in a sustainable way from both the environmental and the human perspective,” says Mari Onkamo, chief executive officer, Polarica Group.

“We’ve had thousands of pickers, most of whom come to Finland year after year. We also want to be actively involved in the development of the industry in the future, and hope that we will find new operating models related to the challenges of the industry with the help of the pilot project,” says Sami Hokkanen, Business Director, Arctic International.

Finland’s most recognized sustainability brand

According to research, Fairtrade is the world’s most recognized and trusted sustainability brand, and in Finland, it is recognized by 91 percent of Finns (Verian 2023). In Finland, there are more than 1,700 different products in Fairtrade selections. The criteria regarding the use of the Fairtrade mark prohibit discrimination, forced labour and the exploitation of child labour, and they promote equality and democracy. Some criteria are related to the environment. If the pilot project is successful, the new criteria should be available to all interested companies in Spring 2025.

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