Fairer trade? - Page 2

Local coffee houses bypass Fair Trade, working directly with growers to get them more money

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At Ritual Roasters, the coffee comes direct from the farm and is roasted in San Francisco
PHOTO BY OONA ROBERTSON

I saw that illustrated on my recent visit to the Ritual Roasters facility where roasters convert raw beans procured worldwide into aromatic coffee. As I was drinking a cup of very fresh coffee, owner Eileen Hassi showed me pictures of the exact farm where my coffee had been grown.

She had made a recent trip to this Costa Rican coffee farm, and taken pictures of the farm, the processing facilities, and the owners. It is this visible connection, as well as high quality coffee, that contribute to the growing popularity of some San Francisco independent roasters.

Local roasters Ritual, Four Barrel and Blue Bottle Coffee Co. follow this model of buying coffee directly from the producers and forming beneficial relationships. Some roasters call this direct trade.

"For me, it's the only way to get the best quality coffee and the only way that you can continue to get the best coffee is to pay good money for it," says Four Barrel owner Jeremy Tooker. "If you pay your pickers better then they pick better coffee."

Hassi believes that the cost of coffee will continue to increase because of a volatile, heavily fluctuating market, increased consumption, and global warming causing some places to lose their capability of producing coffee.

"If all of us in the developed world want to keep drinking coffee," she says, "we need to get used to paying a lot more for it."

James Freeman, owner of Blue Bottle Coffee Co., says he believes there's a place for Fair Trade. "It's a certification and, like all certifications, there's the pluses and the minuses," he says. Yet his coffee is uncertified and purchased directly from producers and organic cooperatives. "The cheapest we buy coffee for is probably two, two-and-a-half times the fair trade minimum," he says. "In a way it's better for fewer farmers, but at least it's better."

Wagner disputes several San Francisco roasters' claims that the $3–<\d>$4 minimum price they pay is double Fair Trade's. "The market has been over $3 on many occasions in the past year," she says, reiterating FairTrade's policy to pay producers either the Fair Trade minimum or the market price. "So to say you're paying double the fair trade minimum without knowing what is going on that is actually you distorting the information...We love people's efforts to trade more directly with farmers, but we do not appreciate spreading misinformation about Fair Trade. That doesn't help anyone."

Fair Trade's popularity stems from its altruistic image, and to lose this image through "misinformation" might do damage to its popularity. But challenging people's assumptions about Fair Trade could help raise its standards, which Patzel says need to be "upgraded and improved".

"It is my belief," she says, "that the FTA [Fair Trade Association] and other certifying entities may want to consider how to improve the Fair Trade calculator, ensuring that it is not the exporters that are making the majority of the income and instead, increase the wealth distribution starting at the very base and bottom of the pyramid, not in the middle."

Even Wagner concedes, "We've made significant impact but we can do more."

Patzel says Fair Trade farmers may not even be treated better than convention coffee farmers. "Just because a farmer is producing Fair Trade coffee does not mean — not at all — that they are being treated better than farmers who are not. It depends on what kind of relationship they have with the producer," she says. "It really is a case by case basis."

Gilbert Ramirez has been working to run a cooperative in Costa Rica for 25 years that is 70 percent Fair Trade. For him, the monetary increase between Fair Trade and conventional coffee is 15-20 percent.

Comments

@Oona. I'm disappointed that after our many discussions you continue to misrepresent the goals of Fair Trade certification. While I could spend time addressing the individual theories you present, I'll focus on a few key inaccuracies:

• Our mission is Sustainable Community Development: Fair Trade USA is a mission-driven nonprofit organization. We focus on sustainable community development. Price is part of that equation, but not the whole story. Certification verifies that a company's claims are true, that money is being invested in the communities for vital social services, that workers have safe conditions and that farmers are protecting the environment, among other benefits.

• Our Organization's Name is Fair Trade USA: Your article uses the wrong name for our organization. Our name is Fair Trade USA and there is no such thing as a TransFair USA label oversight division.

• No One Can Trademark Fair Trade: No one can trademark the term “Fair Trade” because it is legally classified as a fair use term. Therefore, Fair Trade USA does not have a trademark on the term Fair Trade, nor have we ever claimed to.

• Fair Trade and Direct Trade: To compare these models, you must understand that they have different goals. Fair Trade USA is a third-party certifier that sets and monitors standards that protect, and empower farmers and workers. Direct trade is focused on delivering the best quality coffee from a single farmer. Fair Trade is also a means for developing and delivering coffee quality, but our goal is to alleviate poverty and empower communities to help better their own lives through viable trade, not aid.

Readers, if you are looking for more accurate information on the impact and relevancy of Fair Trade please visit http://www.fairtradeusa.org. In just 12 years, Fair Trade USA and its partners have generated more than $220 million in additional income and benefits 1.2 million farmers and workers annually with better prices, community development funds, training, direct connections to US buyers and more.

Posted by Fair Trade USA (Stacy Geagan Wagner) on Aug. 19, 2011 @ 4:20 pm

You claim a lot for faair trade but: have you ever visited a central american community that is produucing fair trade? They do not get a cent of the price increase! They do not know of such price increase! Fair trade usa should go and make sure that the lives of these people are improved upon and not the money get lost somewhere in the way!

Posted by Guest Mike on Aug. 20, 2011 @ 6:45 am

Thank you for your post on Fair Trade. I would like to share important additional information about the Fair Trade movement and marketplace, regarding other fair trade labeling initiatives. Fair Trade USA is just one reputable fair trade labeling initiative in the marketplace that focuses on certifying single ingredients and products, instead of companies and brands dedicated to fair trade throughout their entire product line. While it is commendable for an otherwise non-fair trade company to offer one or few fair trade products, fair trade consumers prefer to support brands and companies that are dedicated to fair trade throughout their corporate DNA.

IMO’s Fair For Life Fairtrade certification (www.fairforlife.net) is a new fair trade labeling initiative in the marketplace that focuses on entire companies and all their major supply chains. Mission-driven fair trade companies such as Dr. Bronner’s, Equal Exchange, Theo Chocolate and Guayaki are all certified fair trade through IMO’s Fair For Life certification program. Many more dedicated fair trade companies are moving to the IMO FFL certification so they can distinguish themselves as fully dedicated brands rather than just offering a few fair trade products. IMO’s FFL certification requires a company-wide audit of all products and supply chains in order to earn the FFL seal on labels, which ensures over 95% of their products by sales volume have a majority of Fair Trade content,

The Agricultural Justice Project (AJP) (www.agriculturaljusticeproject.org) is another important new certification that focuses on domestic fair trade production. Currently the international fair trade system focuses on marginalized communities in underdeveloped countries, but American farmers and farmworkers also face similar issues of volatile pricing and unfair wages and working conditions. We need to bring fair trade criteria home, as its not enough to treat earthworms with respect via organic certification we have to think about impoverished farmworkers in the United States too.

Fair trade is growing rapidly and there is a fair amount of consumer confusion. The mission of the Fair World Project, www.fairworldproject.org, a fair trade consumer advocacy campaign of the Organic Consumer Association, is to educate consumers about fair trade and different certification systems to enable informed responsible purchases when shopping.

Best,
Ryan Zinn
Campaign Director
Fair World Project

Posted by ryan Zinn on Aug. 20, 2011 @ 8:08 am

Fair For Life reaps all the efforts of Fair Trade and does nothing to help the certification of producers. Fair for Life is a joke for any company that uses it.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 30, 2011 @ 2:21 pm

"Direct Trade" is a convenient label for the roasters in that is is not a certification, therefore the claims are not verified, and the consumer really has no way to know what the actual impact of it is or even what it actually means. What I mean by this is that direct trade can mean different things depending on how each company chooses to conduct their business, and the consumer has to take their word for it. Plus, the coffee business is complicated enough that the end consumer really has no way to make a comparison between the amount of money that has gone to the farmer in a direct trade transaction and the amount of money that has gone to the Cooperative in a Fair Trade transaction. Fair Trade certified coffee is different from direct trade in that FT is exclusively from farmers who are extremely small (and therefore usually poorer) than the farmers that have the capacity to sell directly to a roaster, because FT has focused on farmers that have plots smaller than 10 hectares. For farmers at that size, the Cooperative model of pooling resources for capital improvements and making micro-loans available when needed is ongoing as long as they are a cooperative member. The scale of what Fair Trade has accomplished over the last 10-15 years is huge, and it is the reason many roasters and consumers have become so curious about where their coffee came from; therefore I think that it is wrong to make statements about direct trade at the expense of Fair Trade. Certainly direct trade can be a very good thing, but I think it is important to remember that it is a very small percentage of the market, and so can only reach a tiny percentage of coffee farmers.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 24, 2011 @ 11:10 am

It's understandable that young companies would want to differentiate themselves from their predecessors, but doing so at the expense of the Fair Trade model is rather less laudable than you might be led to believe. While it's a noble thing to help one farmer by buying the small quantities that direct trade represents, it can't begin to compare with the worldwide effort that Fair Trade has made to address the complex problem of low income for millions of farmers. Though the problem is far from being solved, the Fair Trade model has no rival in raising the consciousness of the coffee industry to the issue and attempting to actually address it on a mass scale.
Robert Fulmer and Helen Nicholas
Royal Coffee Inc.

Posted by Guest Robert Fulmer Royal Coffee Inc. on Aug. 24, 2011 @ 2:18 pm

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