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I love Fair trade (well kind of)

Long time readers will know that Has Bean is not a fan of the fair trade brand (link here) so this statement is a bit of a shock to some I’m sure.

In my naive world every one is like us and pays a good price for a quality coffee. But not everyone pays a good price for their coffee (glaring looks at the big 4 and a number of others).

I watched this video and realised we make such a small contribution (the tinyest, tiny drop in the ocean) to the whole thing.

It then came to me that if these irresponsible companies pay more for the average coffee and brand it as fair trade that’s got to be a good thing. And then companies like Has Bean (and a lots of other micro roasters) pay even more for the awesome specialty coffee and brand it as good coffee, everyone wins.

So fair trade is good for those who need it, we’ll continue to buy good coffee for a good price, and I hope that others pay a little more too, those who can make a difference. But for the time being we will make our drop in the ocean and hope it makes others stop and think.

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12 Comments

  1. It is a good thing you do and in time things will change for the better and others will follow your lead. Mighty oaks from amall acorns ……

  2. small acorns even … whoops!

  3. we tend to forget the positive-sustainable impact that is made through Fair Trade relationships. Fair Trade is not just a transaction, it’s about communication.

    Where is the commitment on the roasters part to continuously buy from the same farmers if not part of the Fair Trade trail?

    The whole micro-lot / direct-buy movement……It’s a cop-out and a way for roasters to brand their coffee as “ethical” and ride the Fair Trade bandwagon without having to be transparent or accountable.

  4. I hear you Jonathan but where is the quality and sustainability of the fair trade trail. If something is good then people will pay more for it, will this always be the way for ethical reasons? What happens if its not in vogue any more?

    Saying “It’s a cop-out” is simply not true. I don’t want to ride any bandwagon, I want to have a relationship with a farmer who produces a quality product that my customers will pay more for so I in turn can give him more.

    If anything the “cop-out” would be to stock fair trade, and that’s my ethical policy then ticked. I don’t need an audit to tell you we pay well above market price, and if you question that you can ask the farmer themselves, because that’s the relationship we have. Fairtrade isn’t the only show in town when it comes to fair prices, something that’s quite often forgot.

    As I say in the post, there are some people who need fairtrade and I wish they would buy more. And by chance there are some very good fairtrade coffees but it’s always by chance, and never by design.

    We have, and do have some fairtrade coffees on the site, but we don’t market them as such, we market them as good quality coffee that we think you should pay a little more because we did.

    Great point and thanks for the comments this kind of thing needs debate, and need to be in the open so the consumer can make there own decision, lets not get critical of any method that means the farmer gets more, I guess that was the point I’m trying to make.

  5. For me it boils down to this:

    If you wish to buy commodity coffee (which has its price determined on the open market) then FairTrade is a way to go that guarantees certain things.

    If you want to buy speciality coffee then you deal direct and have good transparency and the farmer is paid a price governed by the quality of that single lot and nothing else. It doesn’t matter as much what the market is doing because the price of something like La Fany (as a quick example) isn’t governed by that.

    The gap between speciality and commodity is widening, and in my opinion is something of a yawning chasm.

    Fair Trade does nothing to resolve the problem it seeks to ease for a chosen few, and many people just don’t realise what fair trade actually means:

    Coffee came from a co-op of small, family growers (thus ruling out huge amounts of the world’s production from ever being certified)
    They were paid $1.26/lb, or 5c above market price – whichever is higher.
    The farmers within the co-op adhere as much as possible to an ethical code.

    There are a couple more guarantees but not amongst them is the promise that you will enjoy the coffee, want a second cup or buy it for any reason other than guilt. Which seems a terrible, terrible shame.

  6. Sorry, I didn’t mean to sound critical. I’m just rather pissed and typing before thinking sometimes.

    As far as people enjoying the coffee…I can buy a premium steak of the finest Kobe beef and char the shit out of it and make it taste like a piece of burnt rubber. Or I can that same steak and prepare it so that I bring out all of the amazing aroma and taste that it’s known for. The cattle farmer didn’t have much to do with the outcome. If I can take an equally delicious flank steak and make it taste just as good, if not better, then we’re really getting somewhere.

    I just don’t like that Fair Trade is getting this stigma lately that it means that the coffee isn’t as good. So much of it comes down to the roaster. Starbucks brings in some fine beans (or at least they used to) but they burn the hell out of em.

    If a farmer is getting paid a decent price, he’s going to deliver the best bean he can.

    Thanks, apologies for sounding like a dick. I hate jerks on blogs. I don’t mean to be one.

  7. Not at all Jonathan I think we all want the same end goal, and I for one hope we achieve it.

    I love this debate, as it raises consumer awareness and also makes me stop think and constantly re evaluate.

  8. James of Manc 4 April, 2007 at 8:57 pm

    The Hoff is right. Fair Trade works for the mass market and makes a massive difference to huge numbers of farmers previously ripped off by middle men. So I’m told that my coffee is worth nothing so thats what I get paid, cos what do I know about market determined prices? I can’t afford to grow this year, cos I need the land to grow food for my family. Thats where FT has had the biggest impact. I know that I can put down plans to grow a coffee crop for the next few years cos I know I’m going to get something for it. Its then down to the individuals/families within a coop who want to push for quality. Some genius examples in Rwanda (Has Bean F.C.!!!) and the wonderful Cup of Excellence.
    We need the boutiques that are going to commit to marketing the brilliance of the best growers and the true art of roasting. Its on a long and narrow road, but the best things usually are. Thankyou Steve (and Sarah!) for all you do and encouragement you give!

  9. I reposted this entry on the MySpace Blog of the Washington DC Fair Trade Coalition.

    Elizabeth Gilhuly
    Organizer
    Washington DC Fair Trade Coalition
    http://www.fairtrade.meetup.com/3

  10. Danielle Johnson 2 September, 2008 at 9:57 pm

    I’m pleased you’ve posted this, but don’t you think you planted a dangerous and damaging seed for fairtrade? I received your email recently, and the things you said are not only in many cases harmful, but in some cases simply untrue (for example, the Fairtrade Foundation publish their budget and expenditure and their logo change was clearly no where near the price range you claim). It’s good to question things, but you didn’t just question, you came up with quite a few erroneous claims. I think there is a danger of intellectualising a problem to the point of in action – the fact is people need help, and whilst there isn’t a perfect solution, support should be given to those solutions that do exist. The things you wrote are still ciculating, and damaging the cause of Fairtrade, and whilst I respect this updated post, some things simply can’t be undone over night!

  11. Hi Daniele

    If only thing were that easy, I still think that fair trade has no place in the specialty industry and many of the thing published and circulated by the organization harmful to much of the work we do and many others in the fine coffee sector.

    there are some sectors that do need fairtrade, and I say shame on them for that. Fair trade is a start, but no where near the answer. Coffee is a complicated sector and the whole fairtrade debate one of the most complex.

    the support to the solutions that do exist are often dismissed by fairtrade. In fact I was told by one of there people that the only way you can prove you pay a fair price is to buy fair trade and thats obviously not true. I can show you any who agree that this is not true. I’ll still be happy to speak to you as offered to discuss why I feel this way if that would be of use.

    Best Wishes

    Steve

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