Most consumers and business owners are now familiar with the Fairtrade label, if not necessarily all the facts behind it. Broadly speaking, goods labelled as Fairtrade have been monitored through the production and distribution process which ensures that there’s no exploitation of the producers. And it all began with coffee, way back in 1988, thanks to supply exceeding demand.
In essence, the idea was to make sure coffee was priced at such a level that coffee growers could earn enough to make a profit. Not unreasonable, really! By 1997, four organisations which had been formed to label fair trade around the world combined to form Fairtrade International.
We all enjoy a bargain – perhaps even more than a good cup of coffee – but it shouldn’t be at the expense of others’ welfare. According to Fairtrade International, 80% of the world’s coffee is produced by around 25 million smallholders. Lone, family or small community farmers. About 125 million people depend on coffee production for income.
But coffee growing is a risky business to be in – not that many of these smallholder farmers have a great many other options to choose from. Coffee crop success can vary year to year – and region to region – depending on disease and weather conditions. Variable demand and variable production can mean price volatility. Overproduction leads to plummeting prices, which hits the growers hardest.
Because when you switch on your workplace coffee machine – whether it’s a communal bean-to-cup machine or the gleaming espresso machine behind your coffee shop bar – the coffee you’re about to make has passed through numerous hands. Growers, traders, processors, exporters, roasters, distributors and finally you. Everybody in that chain has a profit margin to make, and without Fairtrade, it’s the people at the bottom whose income gets ground down hardest.
By setting minimum prices and standards for coffee producers, Fairtrade gives smallholders some financial security and introduces stability into the supply chain.
It’s also about quality and environmental standards. Fairtrade coffee farmers put an average of 31% of their Fairtrade premium back into improving productivity, efficiency and quality, and 26% into education. Which benefits their local environments too. All of this means the taste of the coffee you supply to your customers is better.
And this principle goes beyond coffee, of course. Fairtrade labelling can now be seen on all sorts of products, from beauty to gold. Tea, chocolate, sugar, bananas, nuts and even the cotton in your tea towels.
So, when you choose Fairtrade tea and coffee for your workplace, catering business or at home, you’re helping maintain standards, supporting the developing world, and making trade a whole lot more ethical.
We wouldn’t want it any other way.