Connecting the chain through Fairtrade

Fairtrade Coffee

BeanScene explores the role Fairtrade has played in the rise of ethical consumerism and the importance of connecting coffee producers to consumers.

The coffee a consumer chooses is now, more than ever, influenced by its story. Where does it come from? Was it grown ethically? And the biggest question: Does any portion of the price paid per cup actually impact the farmer?

These are all questions consumers have begun asking as part of an increased awareness towards ethical consumerism, says Linda Maksic, Manager at Veneziano Coffee Roasters Sydney.

“For me, ethical consumerism is when a consumer buys a product based on how it was grown and how it has reached the consumer instead of its cost,” says Linda. “These consumers are buying the product because they want to make a positive impact somewhere else in the world.”

She says Veneziano’s use of Fairtrade certified coffee, along with Fairtrade’s transparency from coffee producer to cup, has allowed her to support the rise of the ethical consumer.

“Fairtrade has really allowed baristas like me to be more open to our customers and say ‘hey, our Fairtrade Aspire blend uses coffee beans from cooperatives across Peru and Colombia,” says Linda.

“I’m able to share who the producers are and how the money benefits them when consumers buy Fairtrade, which is really cool, and people find comfort in knowing where their coffee comes from.”

Linda says sharing this information with consumers helps nurture their understanding of Fairtrade coffee, its social impact, and increases the likelihood of return business.

“I can post pretty pictures on my social media, but people are more likely to buy from someone who is familiar, and [when] they can feel closer to the source,” says Linda.

“Through education provided by Fairtrade and communicated by the barista, we’re reducing the degree of separation from the farmers in Peru to these customers in Surry Hills.”

Molly Harriss Olson, CEO of Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand.

Molly Harriss Olson, CEO of Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand says that Fairtrade’s entire system has been engineered to have this level of transparency thanks to an independent audit of each link in the supply chain.

These audits are conducted by global certifying organisation Flocert, who at origin, ensures each coffee producer is being treated fairly through assessing farming practices, examining records, and interviewing workers.

Part of this audit also guarantees that Fairtrade’s premium funding is going towards improving the community. The Fairtrade Premium is an additional sum of money given to each cooperative for every pound of coffee sold. This money provides additional resources that can be used to improve infrastructure, agriculture practices, and community wellbeing.

In 2019, Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand delivered nearly $2.7 million of Premium funds to Pacific regions including Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste, Fiji, Tonga, Solomon Islands, and Samoa.

One such example is the Highlands Organic Agriculture Cooperative which achieved its Fairtrade certification in 2005. Since then, the group — which consists of 2600 coffee growers — has increased its production of high-quality specialty coffee through using its Fairtrade Premium funding to invest in better tools and training.

Within this community, the Fairtrade Premium has also been used to create a water supply which more than 60,000 locals rely on. The funds have also supported the building of local schools and have been invested into programs that build climate resilience.

A minimum female worker quota was also introduced, which has improved the lives of countless women in the region.

To keep track of its cooperative’s achievements, even in the most remote areas, Fairtrade employs local staff who assist with recording and sharing every community development.

For Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand, this includes having local staff in Papua New Guinea, Fiji, and Timor Leste who, pre-pandemic, would visit these cooperatives and farms in person. For cooperatives in areas such as the Solomon Islands and Samoa, workers from both Australia and New Zealand travel there whenever possible.

Fairtrade actively shares cooperative developments with roasters, importers, and cafés through email newsletters and online resources that are shared on social media. Another way Fairtrade reaches the end-consumer is through marketing campaigns such as events, media relations, and advertisements.

“This helps consumers understand the power of their purchasing decisions, and with understanding comes responsibility,” Molly says.

“For us, it’s important that baristas and café owners are connected to the story of the coffee and can communicate the importance of an ethical supply chain to the final consumer. If they are passionate about the coffee being fair, then they will pass this attitude on to the customers.”

Back in Australia, Lee and Norman Palumbo of coffee roastery and café, Just Planet, realised 13 years ago that through their support of Fairtrade coffee, they could make a significant change in developing countries.

“The anti-colonial approach Fairtrade has taken, where everyone is treated as partners, is important to us,” says Norman. “We decided to support Fairtrade certified coffee because we’d heard within the coffee industry there is a huge systematic exploitation of workers, and we wanted to be part of a cause that was changing this.”

Lee says the way Fairtrade connects consumers to the farmers is a major reason the café continues to sell Fairtrade coffee.

“Through the stories Fairtrade communicates, such as [the conditions] people are living in and how their coffee is grown, consumers are connecting on a deeper level with these people on the farm.”

Lee says an increasing number of customers are looking at “the bigger picture” and how they can play their part in positively impacting the world around them, which is also contributing to ethical consumerism.

She says that knowing where each dollar is going, and understanding how it has improved a community, is changing consumers’ views towards money.

“Consumers are increasingly considering the impact their money can have and how they can create change with it. I believe this is another reason why people keep coming back to buy Fairtrade,” Lee says.

Before COVID-19, Fairtrade also supported this connection by taking roaster and café partners to visit the cooperatives, meet the producers, and experience how the coffee is grown.

Norman Palumbo of Just Planet roastery and café has used Fairtrade coffee for 13 years.

Now, given restrictions, finding other ways to connect to producers, such as through Fairtrade Fortnight a time when all Fairtrade partners are encouraged to share material recognising Fairtrade certification, the values behind it, and the people whose lives it touches.

“Fairtrade Fortnight has been making such a huge difference to consumer education, which is also why we support them,” Lee says.

“I think there is a lack of understanding with coffee prices, and why the bottom line has to increase to ensure the farmers are looked after correctly.”

Norman adds that creating change is about raising consumer awareness, and is why Fairtrade accreditation is so important.

“It’s also about sharing that Fairtrade’s beans are high-quality. It’s specialty grade, organic, and there are no pesticides used. The result is a much better-quality product,” he says.

Across the Tasman Sea, Alara Varnel, owner of Kaiaroha Vegan Deli and Eatery in New Zealand says more consumers are understanding how the global supply chain is linked, which is also contributing to the increased awareness towards ethical buying. She says this recent awareness has meant consumers are now flooded with sustainable claims, making it harder to differentiate fact from fiction. Thankfully, however, Fairtrade’s proven reputation means decisions are made easy.

“I believe that Fairtrade has been going strong for so long because they believe in what they’re doing and creating change for those communities on the ground,” says Alara.

“Fairtrade is truly passionate about real sustainability and real action, which is proven when they share how we, as café owners and consumers, are positively impacting a cooperative. It is this transparency that is making consumers think more compassionately about others and is how we are going to achieve long-term sustainable change.”

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This article appeared in the October 2021 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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