This week we celebrate the concept of fair and sustainable trade. Know thyself, know what thy is eating and drinking and how it reaches your kitchen.
Fair trade and certification
We usually tend to associate fair trade with a label and NGO’s. Fair trade however is more than a label.
Do you know what the criteria are to obtain a label? Or who exactly earns the extra money? Or how much money the farmers actually get? Do you know how difficult it is to obtain certification and how many organizations/companies hand out these labels? Or whether or not these label-givers hold the same criteria and whether they have high standards? It takes an effort to find answers to these questions, but to establish fair and sustainable trade it is a must.
A label does not guarantee that farmers will receive more money. The more people involved in the chain, the more the money is divided throughout that chain. The importers, exporters, retailers, and even the NGO’s all get a share. There is also something called ‘an assimilation strategy’, which companies use in order to sell more of their products. Some coffee chains, such as Starbucks or Nestlé, participate in this popular trend and they have a fair trade label. The reality, however, is that these chains inflict serious harm upon the system. How much of their certified fair trade coffee is actually fair? Is it 10% or 80%? The label will not mention this important information. The certification merely implies that some of the beans are actually fair trade coffee. To comply with the fair trade label, they merely need a certain minimum of fair trade beans, and all the other beans can still be bought in a non-fair trade way, which can be very misleading.
If you want to support true fair trade, you should look for labels that read “100% fair trade”. Don’t be fooled by the certification nor the high price of a fair trade product. It could be that the product only contains a minimum of fair trade and that the label is used to increase the price for personal profit. When you are in doubt whether a product with a label is really fair, you could read more about that specific label online and check its criteria.
Think local, act global – a different perspective
Fair trade labels are not the only means to support a more fair and sustainable trade. While conducting research on coffee production I met an interesting coffee roaster who told me, very proudly, that all the coffee of his company is real fair trade. He was one of the pioneers in Belgium to strive for ‘responsible business’. He visited all the coffee plantations from which his beans originate, and pays a higher price to the farmers in order to maintain the same high quality level of coffee every year. He explained to me that even from a business perspective it is a more sustainable way of working. If he wants to ensure that the plantation can keep on producing his high quality coffee every year, he needs to pay the plantation owners and workers a surplus. It is a business way of thinking, but nonetheless a win-win situation. Because there are no intermediaries (except for import and export) there is more transparency in the coffee chain and the farmers obtain more money because of this direct trade.
The coffee business I am talking about is called koffie kán but there are many more businesses that work in a similar way.
So perhaps it is time for us to support local businesses and try to obtain information about the whereabouts and origin of the food we eat and of the drinks we consume. Think local and act global!