Sunday, December 16, 2012

Fairtrade Coffee. Is it Really Fair?

Fairtrade Coffee in Dublin

Bewleys of Dublin - Coffee ShopAround five years ago you would have struggled to find a good cup of coffee in Dublin. Most places that sold coffee either didn't have the equipment or the expertise to do it the right way and more often that not you would be handed a cup of burnt, tasteless suds, with some coffee in there if you could find it. You could literally blow half the contents of your cup away with one big Jack and the Beanstalk puff! Times have changed. Or should I say, the demand for good quality coffee has increased as our Irish palettes have matured.

Is it Really Fair?

Now in Dublin there is a coffee shop on every street. Maybe 4 or 5 even. And the quality has definitely improved. We also have a selection of shops and restaurants selling Fairtrade Coffee. I often wondered what this actually means. I knew it had something to do with paying the coffee producers an agreed minimum price which would ensure good working conditions for the coffee workers. But that is all I knew. So I wanted to investigate further. So here's what I found out.

Fair Trade

Fairtrade Logo"Fair trade is an organized social movement that aims to help producers in developing countries to make better trading conditions and promote sustainability. The movement known as fairtrade indicating the certification advocates the payment of a higher price to exporters as well as higher social and environmental standards. It focuses in particular on exports from developing countries to developed countries, most notably handicrafts, coffee,cocoa, sugar, tea, bananas, cotton, wine,[1] fresh fruit, chocolate, flowers, and gold"

The Fairtrade brand is by some distance the largest of the fair trade coffee brands. Packers and suppliers in developed countries ((eg) Europe/North America) pay a sum of money to enable them to use the Fairtrade brand and logo.

These suppliers can then charge as much as they want for the coffee. The coffee must come from a certified Fairtrade cooperative, and there is an agreed minimum price when the coffee market is oversupplied.

Ethical Cynicism

There has been some cynicism with regard transparency of how and how much of the money is directed to the workers and the co-operatives. "Consumers have been shown to be content paying higher prices for Fairtrade products, in the belief that this helps the very poor. The main ethical criticism of Fairtrade is that this premium over non-Fairtrade products does not reach the producers and is instead collected by businesses, employees of co-operatives or used for unnecessary expenses. Furthermore, research has cited the implementation of certain Fairtrade standards as a cause for greater inequalities in markets where these rigid rules are inappropriate for the specific market".

Coffee workers hard at work in the fieldWhen I was backpacking around Latin America some years ago I visited some amazing coffee plantations. In fact, I was brought to one famous plantation called Finca Filadelfia in Guatemala for a date with an ex-girlfriend. We hired mules and trotted through the plantation at altitudes of 6000 feet. It was, and is still an amazing place. Filadelfia is not part of a co-op and are not part of any Fairtrade group. I visited many coffee plantations in Latin America. Some Fairtrade and some not. In my eyes they all looked very similar. In saying that, I didn't interview any of the manual workers about working conditions, minimum price paid and so on.


What I'm try to get at with this piece is that not all Fairtrade is fair. We cannot believe that just because it has the packing and the logo then we can be rest assured that the money is going towards helping those in under developed countries. That's not to say that it is not. I'm just saying that you have to view everything from both sides of the fence. But I do believe that it is in essence a good cause and if administered correctly, is and will be of great help to those who toil hand-picking the coffee, providing them with good working conditions, a fair price and above all a higher standard of living.

Latte CoffeeI would still choose Fairtrade Coffee over regular coffee in the hope that the extra money I spend for my cup will eventually trickle its way down to the many impoverishment families who labour on these plantations daily. It's a hope I pray happens.

What we can do in the meantime is request more transparency from Fairtrade themselves regarding proof that this money reaches those in most need of it.

So I for one, will continue to sip on my Fairtrade Latte in support of the Fairtrade movement until such time someone can convince me otherwise with hard facts.

The Ethical Silk Company tailoring is done by the Nano Nagle Tailoring Unit in Theni. Theni is a trading town located in the state of Tamil Nadu, in the very south of India.

In running the tailoring production of The Ethical Silk Company through the Presentation Sisters, you can be ensured that the tailoring ladies are getting well paid and work in very comfortable working conditions. 

The women attend the Nano Nagle Tailoring Unit Monday – Friday, 9.30am – 4.30pm where they are trained in tailoring and 3 of the ladies who have completed the training are working on The Ethical Silk Company products.

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