“Fair Trade” and “ethically sourced” are big buzzwords in the coffee world and beyond. As the globalized economy grows, people are looking to companies for products that make international trade benefit disadvantaged workers. Workers in poorer countries tend to be exploited by large companies for a profit, and Fair Trade and ethical sourcing work to improve winking conditions.
However, while both of these movements have similar goals, they are slightly different. Fair Trade involves the company protecting farmers from low wages due to the low selling price of coffees, teas, and other raw materials abroad. Fair Trade guarantees the producer a fair price for the product and the producer is given extra funds for business or social development.
Ethical sourcing, on the other hand, brings attention to the harsh conditions exploited workers face. In such a large globalized system, these workers are often robbed of a voice and the exploitation continues. Ethical trade involves deliberate steps to improve the working conditions through direct relationships with farmers. So, “Fair Trade” does not always equate to equally sourced.
When it comes to coffee, middlemen reap more profit than the farmers. In a review of Melissa and Angelo’s trip to Guatemala, we talked a bit about the usual coffee process:
In typical coffee production, small coffee farmers gather about a hundred pounds of coffee cherries each day, then hike with them down the mountain. They sell these cherries to coyotes, the middlemen who sell the coffee to larger companies. The small farmers only get about $22 per one hundred pounds of coffee cherries, which is just enough money to live on and give minimal payments towards their farming debts. This creates a nearly inescapable cycle of poverty for the coffee farmers because the coyotes make most of the profit.
This relationship between coyotes and farmers is common across the board in the coffee world. As Brewpoint grows, we will develop direct relationships with coffee farmers to ensure ethical trade.
Ben, our coffee wizard and head roaster, explains the benefit of direct relationships.
“There’s a level of disconnect in coffee. We can establish relationships directly with
farmers and pick great coffees directly from them It gives you a lot more opportunity for direct trade. We do have four regions and farms that we have direct contact with that we’ve started to create that relationship with. It’s not about the amount of coffee we’re producing. We want to flesh out the relationships with the farmers.”
Those direct relationships ensure that the producers are being paid fairly. There are no middlemen to take the profit. Ben shared more on the subject, outlining Brewpoint’s plans for ethical trade:
“Direct trade is a term that’s thrown around a lot, and unfortunately a lot of the companies have been using it more as a marketing tool than being actually ethically direct trade. Sure, you may talk to the farmers, but if that’s all you’re doing, you’re not benefiting them. A lot of the companies go in and say ‘I’m gonna build you a school’ and the farmers are like, ‘We didn’t need new schools.’ The companies come in, and they don’t understand the needs of the community. They say, ‘I’m going to give you money for your coffee and then spend it for you.’ It’s very easy to fall into traps where you’re not benefiting anyone but yourself, so we want to create secure, fair relationships. That’s more important to us that maximizing output.”
With our roasting location opening in just a few months, ethical trade methods are vitally important to us. It’s not about producing as much coffee as we can–it’s more than that. We’re building lasting relationships with the farmers to provide you with the best coffee possible.