Posted in Kafevend Blog
Regular visitors to the blog may recall our recent delve into the vast difference in prices fetched by coffee depending on whether it's raw or processed in 'Where did your coffee grow?'. We discovered that many coffee growers are losing out because they have little alternative but to sell their coffee in its raw state, meaning that others further along the chain stand to profit by far greater margins than they do. The Fairtrade movement has sought to even out the playing field through a number of initiatives and, as promised, it's the subject of Fairtrade that today's blog will look at.
The Fairtrade movement is a global organisation and the majority of UK shoppers will be familiar with the simple blue, black and green logo that appears on a growing number of products on the supermarket shelves. Fairtrade works to seek better deals for small scale farmers and farmworkers and to build markets for Fairtrade products like coffee, tea and cocoa – all close to our heart on the Kafevend blog!
The need to provide marginalised producers with fair and equal access to buyers became apparent after World War 2. The idea of fairly traded products gained momentum in the 1960s and 70s with handmade goods appearing for sale in Oxfam shops, for example. Then, towards the end of the 1980s, agricultural products began to appear too, with coffee and tea paving the way. The breakthrough really came when Fairtrade managed to find a way to expand distribution, namely through supermarket chains where there's clearly a far larger target audience for Fairtrade products.
Cafédirect was the first company to bring Fairtrade coffee to the UK following the collapse of an international coffee agreement in 1989, which made life very tough indeed for smallholders. It was founded by a number of philanthropic organisations such as Oxfam and Traidcraft. Coffee was purchased direct from the farmers themselves, thereby cutting out the risk of exploitation by the notorious 'middle men'. Today Cafédirect buy tea and cocoa direct from growers too and most of the farmers own shares in Cafédirect. Cooperatives have also been set up within communities to promote development in areas like health and education. Meetings are held annually between Cafédirect and the farmers; the close relationship that is fostered ensures that we, the consumers, enjoy the pick of the crop in Cafédirect products, so everyone benefits.
Nevertheless, like any global organisation, Fairtrade has its detractors, not least those who point out that it's actually very hard for some of the poorest and most marginalised farmers to meet the criteria for certification. Those who uphold the free market ideal also argue that the alternative fair trade system can lead to overproduction and market inefficiency. Perhaps the problems could be summed up in a succession of clichés: nothing in life is perfect; one size does not fit all; there's always room for improvement. However, there's no doubt that the Fairtrade movement has lifted many communities out of poverty and given individuals control over their lives and futures. It has also raised awareness in the first world and given people the opportunity to show support on a weekly basis when they go out for their shopping. If you haven't done so up till now, why not try some fairly traded coffee, tea, cocoa and sugar the next time hot drinks pop up on your shopping list?