In Defense of Fair Trade
Coffee roasters vs Fair Trade? Some newer coffee roasters claim they do it “better” than Fair Trade. I’d like to weigh in.
As the first Fair Trade certified roaster in the region, we at Cravens Coffee supported programs supporting the farmer early on. Details of the fair trade model are well documented (transfairusa.org) and include: fair minimum pricing for green coffee, representation through local co-operatives and addressing humanitarian issues such as safe working conditions and child labor.
While Cravens Coffee is clearly an entrepreneurially-founded business believing in business freedom, market forces of supply and demand and the concepts of competition through quality and service, coffee has unique inherent complexities. It is a third world agricultural product traded as a first world commodity leading to severe downward pressure on coffee prices at the farm gate. In dignified working conditions, true Specialty Coffee needed a mechanism to ensure earned value was realized. Hence the international Fairtrade Labeling Organization (FLO) and the US branch Transfair USA, whose name recently changed to Fair Trade USA, was created to serve.
Fair Trade is not perfect. We studied the model before certifying, and continue to monitor their efforts. They are open and communicative. But for a small roaster to say THEY do it better than Fair Trade is curious. Fair Trade has an assertive third party certification mechanism to ensure the stipulations for growing, picking and milling are all adhered to. Then they audit the finances and accounting of each co-operative to ensure the farmers are being paid correctly. They attend the Co-operative leadership meetings to ensure the agreed upon principles of democracy are embraced. There may be elements of this that sound like imperialism and/or socialism. But having seen the process and the results, it is quite the opposite. This is sustainable capitalism.
Quite simply, the roasters who say they do it “better” have absolutely no methods or mechanisms to do so. They are not able to monitor, audit or verify anything. If they say they have “people” who do that, who are they? The most over-used phrases in coffee at the moment are “Direct-Trade” and “Farm Direct”. Everyone is buying direct (apparently). Some roasters are truly doing so. I have a couple of colleagues in the business who travel 9 months out of year sourcing coffee for their companies. They are truly Direct-Trade (living on planes, trains and automobiles!). But for the roasters who say all this, yet have not traveled to countries of origin (not being judgmental – real coffee travel is hard), to say they are doing something better than Fair Trade is disingenuous.
Thank you for choosing Cravens Coffee,