I’m passionate about the Bible… and coffee… hence the title of my daily Bible study notes, Coffee with the King. It should also explain why I’m passionate about ethically-sourced coffee. There are plenty of places to get this, from looking for the Fairtrade logo in your supermarket, to online boutique sources.
My supplier (or dealer, depending on how you view it) is www.fivesenses.com.au – I particularly recommend the Crompton Road blend.
What is Fairtrade?
Although it’s only one of the ways to pursue ethically-sourced coffee (and other products), it’s one of the biggest.
It’s not a brand of tea or coffee, or a company trying to make money. It’s a non-profit organisation which certifies certain products as Fairtrade; it’s like the ‘heart-smart’ tick on healthy foods.
The aim of Fairtrade is to ensure that producers in developing nations are paid a fair price for their product; that their workers are paid and treated fairly. Because when farmers don’t get paid enough for their produce, they suffer. And not only them, but their families and their hired workers. Some farmers will send their children out to work in the fields. Others resort to trafficking and enslaving people.
Now, some people might say that buying a few Fairtrade products isn’t going to make a difference. And to some extent, I’d agree – your individual purchases are a drop in the ocean. But the strategy here is collective action. If enough people buy Fairtrade products, then the market share of the multi-nationals is impacted. This then puts pressure on them to do something about the exploitation – to change their own practices. In turn, this then leads to many more products being Fairtrade certified and many millions of lives being changed.
Does it sound unrealistic? Over the past few years, there have been some significant successes. Chocolate was one of the first targets, since cocoa farmers were among the most exploited in the world. So community groups and church groups around the world started to encourage people to boycott the big producers, and to buy only Fairtrade approved brands. What happened? After concerted, grassroots action, Cadbury gave in and made its supply chain Fairtrade approved. All it took was enough people standing up for change, and it happened. By contrast, Darrell Lea didn’t get on board – and in an article for the Sydney Morning Herald a financial writer cited this as one of the significant factors that led to its demise. By changing our purchasing patterns, we can bring about change.
Coffee is another area where we’re having an effect. More and more suppliers are seeing Fairtrade certification as the bare minimum of what their customers expect. Now I’m a bit of a coffee snob, so I’m a bit more into this one. But my supplier is passionately into this – dealing directly with growers in places like Bali, and even posting pictures of the farmers and their kids on their website. Coffee farming, too, is beginning to change for the better.
Unfortunately, there are still many areas where action is needed. The most pressing at the moment is the clothing industry. Highlighted by the recent disaster in Bangladesh, where poorly paid workers slaved away in unsafe conditions, in factories that weren’t properly maintained. And hundreds died as a result. Analysts blame the constant price pressure from large discount chains in the West for the poor conditions. What can we do about it?
Again, your shopping choices are a part of it. Recently, a number of big brands have signed a safety agreement to lift the conditions of workers – companies like Cotton on, Target, and Kmart. But according to Oxfam Australia, there are still many others who haven’t so far (see Oxfam for the latest list). As well as changing where you shop, you can also sign petition at oxfam.org.au, or write to pressure the companies directly. As we’ve seen, it only takes a small number of people to change the behaviour of large companies scared about losing market share.
As Christian consumers, we can do our best to make sure we’re paying foreign workers a fair price.