This is another one from my ethical living blog. Hope you enjoy.
What would the world be without you?
OK scrap that: what would my world be without coffee? A dark and terrible place, I’m telling you. The working day would probably pass in a sleep-induced haze (either that or I would lose my mind in a fit of withdrawal symptoms).
But what about the world outside my rather limited, caffeine-driven one? How does coffee affect it? You might not think it is very important in the scheme of things.
The fact is that coffee is extremely important – and every time you buy a jar, you are making a decision that could affect millions of vulnerable and marginalised farmers across the world.
How does coffee affect people?
The fact is, traditional coffee trading is deeply unfair.
OK, I know most of us realise this – but how many of us really think about it? Really?
For products that are not fairly traded, there are no standards in place. When you buy such a product, you may be paying for:
– child labour
– unfair and unstable wages
– damage to the environment
– and a whole lot more.
How many of us want to pay for those things? Not me.
Since 2001, the World Trade Organisation has been holding discussions about how to change the world trade system to benefit the poor. But countries such as mine (the UK), other EU countries and the US (among others) have resisted these changes. This means the growth of the fair trade movement is critical.
So why fair trade?
When you buy a fair trade product, the producer receives not only a fair and stable price, but in many cases a premium to invest in their community. This could go on anything from schools, food, tools, technology, water wells, healthcare and a whole lot more. The fair trade logo also gives a guarantee that social standards are in place, and that coffee production does not adversely affect the environment. It also guarantees producers have not been exploited, and no child labour has been used.
How do you know if a product is fair trade?
Many fair-trade products carry the international Fairtrade Mark, which looks like this:
It is awarded by the Fairtrade Labelling Organisations. Look for it next time you shop. Many fair trade products are the same price, or a little more expensive, than non-fair trade products. Those extra few pennies could make a world of difference.
And trust me – as a coffee fanatic, fair trade coffee tastes every bit as good as the unfairly traded equivalent. Examples of major fair trade brands include:
– Equal Exchange
Most supermarkets stock their own fair-trade coffee, and some supermarkets (for example The Co-Operative and M&S) have the fair-trade logo on their entire stock of own label coffee. Other brands, such as Nescafe, also produce a fair-trade range.
For the sake of a simple choice in the supermarket, what reason is there not to buy fair trade?
ARE there any reasons not to buy fair trade?
The fair trade system has received criticism from both ends of the spectrum. Some say that it is an artificial system which impedes growth and could lead to over production, and at the other end, others claim it does not go far enough in protecting vulnerable workers.
My thinking is: the fair trade system is not perfect (nothing ever is), but a world without it, would be a world that accepts brutal and unfair conditions. Just so we can have a cup of coffee in the morning.
I don’t want to be part of a world like that. Who would?
Martin Luther King is credited with saying:
‘When we arise in the morning… at the table we drink coffee which is provided for us by a South American, or tea by a Chinese, or cocoa by a West African; before we leave for our jobs we are already beholden to half the world.’
We are beholden to half the world. I truly believe we are forever indebted to the poor of the world; it is the unfair balancing of the trading system which means we in the west can live the luxurious lifestyles we do.
So next time you’re in the supermarket – take a minute to browse the shelves, take a minute to consider where your coffee is coming from, and who you could benefit with your choice.
It could be the most important thing you do all day.