Fair Trade is a symbol that is becoming more and more common on everything from chocolate through to hand soap. It’s a sign for consumers that the products they are purchasing have been bought from those making or growing the raw materials in a fair way. With respect to coffee producers, the introduction of the Fair Trade scheme was particularly important, as at the time the scheme was conceived, the supply for coffee far outstripped demand and thanks to there being no quotas in place the market was flooded and profits for growers were miniscule.
The idea behind Fair Trade for coffee producers was to provide growers with enough income to turn a profit by artificially boosting coffee prices.
Coffee is grown in more than 50 areas around the world, most of which are spread across Africa, Latin America and South and South East Asia.
Historically, coffee farmers and farm workers in many of these parts of the world have not been fairly paid for the coffee they produce, and even now the wholesale price for coffee is almost three times less than that supported through the Fair Trade scheme. This gives some indication of how far below a ‘fair’ price coffee growers would be paid for their produce without Fair Trade– and how much less the wholesale price is for those who are not within the scheme.
Living with Coffee (a documentary about fair trade coffee)
As many small coffee farmers in Colombia struggle for a life free of conflict and illicit drugs, coffee roasters and consumers from New Zealand search for a taste of justice.
This is a revealing look inside the multi-million dollar coffee industry that follows the steps of two coffee roasters, in their effors to buy coffee at fair price.
Fair Trade Coffee is fairer trading without the middlemen
In addition to ensuring that coffee producers receive a fair wholesale price, the Fair Trade scheme also introduced a number of other standards relating to the way coffee production is managed.
- fair working conditions, with no child labour
- direct trade between Fair Trade and the coffee producers, eliminating the need for a middle man
- and community development, where Fair Trade premiums (for example those paid for certified organic produce) are invested in local development, such as healthcare and scholarship schemes.
Fair Trade encourages local producers to form co-ops to work together to foster a sense of local community and to protect each other’s interests. Some examples of the success of this model include a scheme in Guatemala where the La Voz cooperative sent local kids to school for the first time; and in Nicaragua where a co-operative established a reproductive healthcare scheme carrying out testing for the virus that causes cervical cancer.
Fair Trade Coffee. Who really benefits?
There have of course been criticisms of Fair Trade, mainly centering around accusations that co-operatives, like any other organisation, can also be corrupt, meaning that money meant for the growers can be siphoned off before it gets to them. There has also been some criticism of the way that the artificial raising of the price of Fair Trade coffee benefits the profits of big supermarkets and retailers who don’t pass on the increase to the growers. In fact, no one has really been able to establish how much of the rise in the price of Fair Trade coffee actually gets to the third world farmers – one UK coffee shop chain was found to be passing on just 1%.
However, there are some organisations out there that are paying the full wholesale price for their Fair Trade coffee and making a real difference to the lives of coffee growers all over the world. You can get more information on the Fair Trade organisation from their website http://www.fairtrade.org.uk.
John is a UK based freelance writer working with Russell Hobbs to promote their range of coffee machines and encouraging coffee lovers to drink Fair Trade.