Throw fair trade into your next coffee brew
Trading partnership aimed at equitable international trade practices also supports fair working conditions and sustainable development, especially in the developing world
We all have our preferred brew — a strong espresso, a flat white, an Americano or perhaps a frothy cappuccino. On World Fair Trade Day, May 11, consider the origins of the cup of coffee in your hand as you indulge in your caffeine kick, taking time to reflect on the process beyond bean to cup.
Fairtrade is a trading partnership aimed at equitable international trade practices based on transparency, dialogue and respect. Apart from paying a fair price for a product, it also supports fair working conditions and sustainable development, particularly in the developing world.
Fairtrade is aimed at addressing the injustices of conventional trade that usually discriminate against the smallest and poorest producers. Apart from coffee, Fairtrade products include wine, tea, chocolate, cotton and other food items.
The first coffee roaster of certified Fairtrade coffee in SA was Bean There Coffee Company. Founded in 2005 by Jonathan Robinson, the company strives to make a sustainable difference in the lives of African coffee producers.
Robinson says he fell in love with the Fairtrade model after travelling in 2002. “Bean There exists primarily for Fairtrade — it was the main inspiration for me to start. It’s part of our DNA.”
Fairtrade has its roots in a time when the world’s coffee prices were very low. Started in the late 1980s by the Fairtrade Foundation, it was established to set a minimum price for coffee that can cover the cost of production and act as a safety net when market prices fall below a sustainable level.
The Fairtrade premiums that Bean There and other Fairtrade coffee companies pay are used to invest in business and community improvements. According to the Fairtrade Foundation’s website: “Fairtrade coffee farmers must use at least 25% of the Fairtrade premium to enhance productivity and quality, for example by investing in processing facilities.”
Robinson explains: “Fair trade is not charity; it’s about paying [people] fairly for a product they’re producing. If you pay people well and they invest that into the processing, it causes quality improvement.”
In choosing the beans used in producing their coffee, Bean There does not compromise on quality coffee.
“Like with anything, you can buy a variety of quality within fair trade. Our business model is driven by high-quality coffee. When we sell our coffee to the customer, we say ‘Buy our coffee because it’s amazing’ and the fair trade is part of that,” Robinson says.
If the ethical reasons behind supporting Fairtrade coffee do not seem to be enough, consider the fact that in 2018 global coffee prices slumped to their lowest in nearly 13 years, with many coffee farmers wondering if it is still worthwhile continuing in a trade that has arguably sustained their families for generations.
Because the price paid for Fairtrade coffee is set at a minimum to avoid exploitation of farmers, Fairtrade coffee may be slightly more expensive than other coffee varieties available at stores.
Robinson urges consumers to consider the following when buying coffee: the ethics behind paying a fair price for the coffee you drink, and the quality of the coffee.
In short: “Buy really great coffee, life is short!”
- The easiest way to spot Fairtrade coffee is to look out for the Fairtrade logo. Apart from Bean There, some popular Fairtrade coffee producers include Motherland, Woolworths, Circo Coffee and Fabino Coffee.