Big Issue runs into big debate

Origin Wines has defended its decision to supply Fairhills-branded tabards to Big Issue sellers.

Some vendors have publicly criticised the deal as inappropriate, saying many people who sell the Big Issue have problems with alcohol dependency.

Fairhills claims to be one of the largest Fairtrade-accredited projects in the world. A joint venture between Origin and Du Toitskloof Winery, it unites 22 South African farms and supplies wine to UK retailers including Tesco, Waitrose and the Co-op.

Origin chief executive Bernard Fontannaz said he was not surprised by the criticism and “welcomed the debate”, but insisted the deal was a gesture of support for homeless people.

He did not reveal how much the arrangement was worth, but said it was enough to finance “a fair advertising campaign in a glossy magazine”.

“We’re selling a lot of wine in the UK and realise that South Africa does not have the monopoly on social problems,” he said. “Consumers are contributing to the welfare of people in South Africa but we should also contribute to the society in which we’re selling the wine. We could have spent the money on advertising in a magazine. We obviously get some exposure, because we’re still a business at the end of the day, but we’re helping people who have slipped out of society.”?He said the tabards helped make Big Issue sellers more easily identifiable and approachable.

Mike Nicholas, a spokesman for homeless charity Thames Reach, praised the deal. “Superstrength lagers and ciders are the biggest killers of homeless people in the UK, not Fairtrade wines,” he said.

“Fairhills does a lot of work to support people with alcohol problems in South Africa and it’s great to see a company backing a homeless charity.”?Big Issue founder John Bird said: “We are enormously grateful to Fairhills for enabling us to produce a national uniform for our 3,200 UK vendors.

“We hope the jackets will not only provide protection against the elements but will increase the visibility of our vendors and make them more approachable – hence ultimately helping them sell more magazines.

“In sponsoring these jackets Fairhills has improved vendor safety and increased their potential earning power.”