According to a definition on PBS's website, fair trade is “a term used to describe a social-responsibility movement demanding that farmers receive fair prices for their products.” When we buy goods that are labeled Fair Trade, we walk away believing that we have done a good thing. That we are participating in a program that is helping farmers in far-away lands to lands to live a better life--but is it true?
Time Magazine-Fair Trade
An article in Time Magazine titled, “What Price for Good Coffee?” says, “Small farmers find growing coffee is hard labor for scant return, even with Fair Trade.” This article brings to light what many already know. The Fair Trade system is a complex one indeed and certainly not yet perfect. Raise coffee prices too high in order to give the farmers what they need, fewer companies will buy and fewer farmers will benefit. It’s a conundrum at best.
Sweet Unity Farms-Direct Trade
David Robinson, son of Jackie Robinson and head of Sweet Unity Farms, a Tanzanian coffee cooperative made up of over 700 farmers, is heading a movement called Direct Trade. He well-expressed some of the issues the farmers face with fair trade when I interviewed him last year.
"Mshikamano Farmers Group and Up-Country International Products Inc. support and are grateful for the work of the Fair Trade movement. This movement has tremendously raised the awareness of the consumer and world community that coffee farmers were receiving far from a "Fair" share of the income from the international coffee business. As the movement went to implement as solution to this injustice, mechanics such as the cost of registration for farmers and the expense of monitoring the system became a problem.
One day both our cooperative and our American partners may seek certification, but at present we are working through model we call "Direct Trade" which actually achieves greater economic benefits and assists on a broad range of issues like improved education facilities, water availability and development project financing that "Fair Trade" could never begin to directly address. Again much of what we have is potential in an early stage of growth, but the "Direct Trade" model in its simplicity offers the ability for consumers to impact a specific rural community of farmers and assist in the broad range of development issues that community faces.”
Another coffee company taking the bull by the horns is Marley Coffee. Marley Coffee has also created its own model of fairness with the stamp of ITAL. The coffee is both organic and fair trade but stamped ITAL because Marley Coffee is “raising the bar for responsible coffee.” ITAL is “Rastafari for food that is pure, true and vital,” according to the website.
“We consider farm worker treatment, compensation and working conditions a part of the responsibility of ITAL culture. Marley farm workers are paid twice the average wage and, through the Marley Coffee Foundation, recreation opportunities (soccer fields and equipment) are provided for farm workers’ children worldwide."
The Marley Coffee Farm will be the first certified organic Blue Mountain Coffee farm in Jamaica, as stated by Dr. Dwight Robinson, Executive Director of the Jamaica Organic Agriculture Movement.
Starbucks-Fair Trade Program Extended to Rwanda
In spite of the many questions raised by Fair Trade solutions, Starbucks is expanding its program to Rwanda, according to a video now showing on its Facebook fan page. Rwanda is a country that is still trying to heal 15 years later after a horrible genocide in which 800,000 people were killed. Starbucks’ Fair Trade program is another positive piece in the rebuilding of a troubled country.
While the Fair Trade movement is troubled and the direct trade and ITAL movements are yet to be proven successful, we have to feel at the very least, hopeful that some progress is being made. This ensures that better solutions will eventually spring forth and may surprise us by coming from the very people they affect the most--the farmers. Still, we must also do our part by supporting companies that are doing theirs with our purchases. Praising them for what is good and not only calling them to task for what is not, but lending our ideas and actions as well. The future of our world depends upon us all.
“What Price for Good Coffee?”