Tuesday October 20th the Fair Trade organization stages a national Coffee Break. Sometime between 8.00 and 20.00 you are encouraged to have a Fair Trade coffee break.
While we fundamentally support the idea of securing a minimum payment to the farmers, we thought it might be high time to talk a little about some drawbacks of Fair Trade.
On one hand it is great to see a national event to support Fair Trade but on the other hand this also indicates that Fair Trade now is way beyond the grass root level and has moved in to the marketing departments.
James Hoffmann recently wrote a great piece about his frustrations with the Fair Trade system also pointing out some marketing abuses of FT. We recommend you read it.
In Denmark the Fair Trade organization often states that Fair Trade secures the Coffee Farmer a minimum payment. But to our knowledge in practice what is secured is a minimum payment to the Exporting Cooperative. The Export Coop buys the coffee from the Producer Coop at a more or less regulated prize. The Producer Coop buys the cherries from the Coffee Farmer at a prize which Fair Trade only demands is democratically fixed. One could question if this is securing a minimum payment to The Farmer in countries with young or weak democratic traditions?
In the other end of the coffee chain, the marketing value of Fair Trade has led to a kind of Fair Trade-paradox:
Companies who market themselves as “Ethical” by selling Fair Trade labelled coffee make more money selling Fair Trade products than they do on comparable products. Importers, Roasteries, Distributers, Supermarkets etc. who sell Fair Trade coffee add their percentages – also to the premium. So when you see the price difference in the store between a Fair Trade certified coffee and a regular coffee that price difference is not the price difference to the farmer. Hence these companies are actually keeping demand for FT coffees down, because of that higher price.
Fair Trade could with James words be “the absolute minimum expected of any company”, but lasting sustainability needs more than that. That’s why we are working with Direct Trade instead. Read more about our Direct Trade model here.
So the whole day Tuesday we’ll be giving out samples of freshly brewed, french pressed Finca Vista Hermosa – a coffee we paid twice the Fair Trade minimum price for, directly to the farmer.