50 reasons to buy Fair Trade Coffee

Miles Litvinoff and John Madeley. 50 Reasons to Buy Fair Trade 2007 Pluto Press. UK

The mainstream trading system is failing the poor. Fair Trade offers partnership in place of exploitation.”

Theresa Wolfwood

Beyond the general response when people ask why one should support fair trade – something that I usually sum up as a better life for producers and an opportunity for consumers to challenge the bottom line mentality of ruthless global corporations, this useful volume offers some very specific reasons and specific details of more general reasons.

Fair Trade has been growing spectacularly in both quantity and variety of goods available. Coffee is always the first product that comes to mind – it is the success story that inspires more products and producers to go Fair Trade. Yet even that has its doubters & when big multinational start saying ‘part’ of their sales will be Fair Trade, we need to doubt (and not buy their products for many other reasons as well).

A friend of mine credited in this book who works in a solidarity organization had her doubts, even though the organization runs a Fair Trade shop; then she was invited to Nicaragua to see a community producing fair trade coffee. It was about 8 years ago when world coffee prices took a drastic dive. She saw the community flourishing on their guaranteed sales and enjoying the facilities that part of the sales funds – schools, clinics, water access etc. She saw that people had time and resources to grow their own food crops as well. On the road from Managua to the Fair Trade community she also saw hundreds of desperate workers, laid off & evicted from coffee plantations, trying to get into Managua to find work and some way to feed their families. The contrast convinced her and she returned to the UK a strong supporter of Fair Trade.

Fair Trade coffee producers of Nicaragua are proud of their product and the respect it garners them. For them to convert to organic was easier because they are offered training and, because of the premium price, they can practice environmental conservation. One coffee producer is quoted in the book as saying when she was asked about Fair Trade, “Buy our coffee because it is the best quality, not because we are poor farmers.” I agree. For 20 years I have been drinking Fair Trade coffee from Omotepe Island in Lake Nicaragua, now marketed as Cafe Simpatico by Victoria’s Central America Support Committee. Simply the best.

Now widely available in Canada, even in supermarkets, are Camino cocoa products; cocoa powder, hot chocolate mix, chocolate chips for baking and an amazing variety of chocolate bars. The bars are cleverly wrapped so that the story of the cooperative in the Dominican Republic where the cocoa trees grow is on the inside of every bar. If you need more persuasion, read the story (BITTER CHOCOLATE: Investigating the dark side of the world’s most seductive sweet by Carol Off) of the child slave trade and worker exploitation on plantations in West Africa which provides most of the world’s cocoa.

“Chemical pesticides poison 20,000 people a year and have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.”

Fair Trade encourages organic production and helps farmers reduce and stop the use of dangerous chemical herbicides and pesticides. The workers on plantations know their health hazards and even asked one journalist, “Aren’t you afraid to eat our cocoa? Workers and consumers both benefit from organic production.

Products sold as ‘Organic’ in our stores may have health advantages, but there is no guarantee that the workers producing the goods are paid or treated fairly. Only ‘Fair Trade’ ensures that.

This book also documents products we seldom think about – such as cotton and carpets. Yet cotton production uses more pesticides than any other crop. Cotton’s fluctuating prices (helped by subsidized crops from the EU) and increasing expenses drive many Indian cotton farmers to suicide every year. Fair Trade guarantees a fixed price and support on many levels so small farmers don’t feel isolated and powerless. Think of that when you buy your next cheap T-shirt.

In Germany in 1990 the campaign for fairly produced carpets gave birth to Rugmark. This certification ensures – through unannounced inspections and checks- that rugs are made by fairly paid adults or families whose children may work an hour or two after school. Part of the sale price returns to fund education and other community projects.

The fifty reasons are too many to list here – read the book and be inspired to help Fair Trade develop in your community. At the same time you will be helping save the environment, improving the health of many workers and consumers, protecting diversity and serving notice to big corporations that there is a powerful alternative to bottom line economics. We can all be an active part of a positive and successful transformation that is sweeping the world: Fair Trade.


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