What is Fairtrade?

What is Fairtrade?

Fairtrade is essentially a partnership between producers and consumers. For many, Fairtrade provides farmers with a better deal on the items they produce and for consumers it helps you feel that you are doing some good when you buy a Fairtrade product. For others however the Fairtrade brand may not quite be as good as it seems.

Fairtrade Products

There are now thousands of Fairtrade products including tea, fresh fruit, nuts and of course coffee. You know you are buying a Fairtrade product when it has the official Fairtrade mark.

The Charter Of Fair Trade Principles

In 2009 Fairtrade International and the World Fair Trade Organisation adopted the Charter of Fair Trade Principles which provides a single international reference point for Fairtrade. This charter lays out the vision and definition of Fairtrade.

The Standards

There are different Fairtrade standards which accept that there are different types of producers, from small cooperatives to larger organisations. There are also standards that apply to workers ensuring fair wages and rights. The standards also lay out what the Fairtrade minimum price is.

Fairtrade Minimum Price

The point of the minimum price is to support producers when markets fall. It is important to note that when the market price is higher than the Fairtrade minimum price the buyer must pay the higher price.

Fairtrade Coffee

Coffee was the first product to be Fairtrade certified. Of the 1.6 million farmers involved in Fairtrade around the world about half are small scale coffee farmers. The reason why Fairtrade focuses on these smallholdings is that there is the amazing statistic that 25 million smallholders produce 70-80% of the world’s coffee. And it proves popular with consumers, Fairtrade coffee is extremely popular, making up 25% of all retail sales.

Why Fairtrade Is Important For Coffee Growers

The price of coffee has historically been very volatile. This is due to a number of reasons. Coffee can be susceptible to disease. Poor weather can affect crops, then there is the problem of large harvests and market speculation. The Fairtrade minimum price helps coffee farmers to survive this unpredictability. Setting that base line ensures that coffee farmers can survive but also plan for the future. If the price if higher than the minum price then farmers are allowed to sell at a higher price. Fairtrade also encourages smallholdings to organise themselves into co-operatives.

The Arguments Against Fairtrade

Many argue that whilst Fairtrade set out with good intentions it is not in 2017 quite as good as it claims it is. What are the arguments here? For some importers the Fairtrade organisation itself has become as corporate and glitzy as what it was trying to argue against in the 1980’s. It spends money on rebranding (there are some reports that this cost as much as £3m) and advertising when its core purpose should be to improve the lives of poorer farmers.

In addition, some argue that there is little evidence that the premium price you pay on Fairtrade coffee actually finds its way back to the farmer. In fact investigations done highlight that much of the additional money actually goes straight to the supermarket and not to the farmer. In fact it is also a concern that little money seems to find its way into social projects in farming communities desperate for investment. In fact many farmers in poor, remote areas wouldn’t be able to afford the fees to join Fairtrade or set up cooperatives.

Finally, one of the biggest concerns that many coffee roasters have about Fairtrade is that nowhere does it mention quality. As such there is a view that consumers pay a premium for a product that is not necessarily indicative of the best they could get. But more importantly there is no incentive on coffee farmers to strive for a great product.

Alternatives to Fairtrade

Our advice, looking at all the evidence, is that Fairtrade we are sure has done lots of good in raising the plight and lives of many coffee farmers. But it doesn’t have a monopoly on ‘goodness’ .There are other ways for you to be sure that the coffee you drink and pay for is not exploiting anyone. When buying beans from your roaster ask how the beans have been bought. Many roasters do insist on buying beans that have been ‘fairly traded’. Some are part of the ‘cup of excellence’ scheme which brings farmers of quality beans and roasters together.

Some roasters simply deal direct with farmers, cutting out all middlemen. Then there is the issue of speciality brands which many roasters are more than happy to pay a premium for as that is what their customers like and are also willing to pay for.

So you will find many Fairtrade supporters out there but also some cynics who feel that there is little that is ‘fair’ in Fairtrade anymore. Wherever you stand if you buy your coffee direct from a roaster ask the question about the sourcing of their beans, you may be surprised by just how much they are doing outside of the Fairtrade brand to pay a fair price.





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