Campaigners are delivering petitions with 300,000 signatures to Nestle in protest at its decision to move away from using Fairtrade cocoa and sugar in KitKat bars.

The company’s KitKat brand has been a flagship Fairtrade product for 10 years, and the partnership has helped tens of thousands of small scale farmers in Cote d’Ivoire and beyond in that time, the Fairtrade Foundation said.

The Fairtrade scheme seeks to empower producers, pays them a fair price for their products, and delivers a premium payment to help communities develop their businesses and local services such as clinics and schools.

But the Swiss-owned food giant said it will now source its cocoa for KitKat bars from farms on Rainforest Alliance terms instead of those working with Fairtrade accreditation.

Nestle, which already uses Rainforest Alliance-certified farmers on other bars such as Aero and Yorkie, has said it will start the new partnership for KitKat from October 2020.

The Fairtrade Foundation said vulnerable cocoa farmers would lose out on around £1.37 million a year in premium payments, and would have less control over how they spend their money, while sugar farmers will lose more than £500,000 in annual premium payments.

Joanna Pollard, co-ordinator of Fairtrade Yorkshire, who started a petition which has garnered 284,000 signatures, said: “As soon as I heard the news that KitKats would no longer be Fairtrade, I knew this would be devastating for thousands of farmers.

“Under the Fairtrade system, they have a seat at the table and make their own decisions about where their money is spent. The farmers I’ve spoken to feel that selling their crop on Fairtrade terms is vital for their communities.

“I’ve been overwhelmed by the support the petition has had from almost 300,000 people all over the world, and reading their reasons for signing, it’s clear that they want to take a stand in support of farmers.”

A further 20,000 people also signed a second petition started independently by the Co-operative Party calling on Nestle not to break away from Fairtrade.

The petitions are being handed in today, Thursday, which marks the date of the start of the annual cocoa harvest in Cote d’Ivoire.

Nestlé previously told The Press it would instead be partnering with the Rainforest Alliance and its combined spending on premiums and investment in community projects and 'a Living Income Pilot' in the 2020-21 season would top what it would have paid in Fairtrade premiums.

A spokeswoman in July said that of their 10,000 cocoa farmer suppliers, 4,500 had only Fairtrade certification; the rest have dual Fairtrade/Rainforest Alliance certification.

She said at the time: "Nestlé has committed to paying for all of these farmers to also become certified with Rainforest Alliance if they wish."

She said they would be paying the Rainforest Alliance premium of $180 per tonne, of which $60 is guaranteed to go to the farmer.

"The rest goes to the cooperatives and to pay for farmer training and other measures. The Fairtrade premium goes directly to the cooperatives so we cannot say what proportion goes straight to farmers."

She added: “We are investing in initiatives to help farmers and our cocoa growing communities over the next two years to overcome some of the long-term systematic problems that farmers face. This includes £1m to develop a living income pilot and a further £500,000 for community projects.

“The pilot is all about closing the gap on living income. It works by agreeing targets or commitments in advance with farmers and co-operatives for good agricultural practices, reforestation, child labour and alternative incomes.

"Direct cash payments are made to farmers for achieving them. What it means in practice is that not only do farmers have the opportunity to boost their income, they will be benefitting their farms, their families and the local environment in doing so."