Fair Trading: Ethical coffee full of beans: Cafe Direct has shown it can pay to do right by growers

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The Independent Online
'YOU GET coffee. They get vaccines,' say the Cafe Direct posters. To the surprise of the cynics the ethically sound Cafe Direct is nearly two years old and selling well, according to Pauline Tuffin of Twin Trading, one member in the consortium behind the product.

'It has been a success. It has become a recognised brand and is selling in all the leading supermarkets, except Marks & Spencer,' Ms Tuffin said.

'The price we pay gives enough for labour, crops, contingency and profit, and that is so rare.' Although she declined to talk about the product's market share, she said the partners were happy.

The idea for Cafe Direct arose from a 1990 conference of Latin American farmers, who were angry that international coffee prices had collapsed after production quotas set by the International Coffee Agreement were abandoned.

The farmers were facing poverty, but retail prices remained high. It seemed an ideal time for a producer to step in guaranteeing fair prices for the grower. Oxfam, Traidcraft, Equal Exchange and Twin Trading came together to form Cafe Direct.

Typhoo Teas, part of Premier Beverages, was pursuing a similar idea at the same time. The company has pledged that it will only buy from growers which are committed to decent pay and working conditions, and has eschewed tea auctions where direct communication with growers is prevented.

Typhoo is in the process of creating a new marketing campaign for its products, which has involved the removal of its fair trade commitment from the front of the packs. However, according to a company spokeswoman, this does not reflect a change of approach. 'We have taken the caring label off the front of the pack because we want to use the space. That doesn't affect the commitment to the policy. Instead, we are to use the back of the pack to explain our fair trading policy.'

Consumer pressure on tea and coffee buyers could increase this year as a result of the launch of the Fairtrade Foundation, which aims to vet a number of supermarket products.

A Fairtrade Mark will be available for producers of tea, coffee, chocolate and clothing that meet minimum standards for conditions of employment and treatment of the environment, and use fair trading suppliers. Cafe Direct has already met the necessary standards, but Typhoo is not applying until it has received clarification of the criteria.

The Fairtrade Foundation is supported by such charities as Oxfam, Christian Aid, Cafod and the Joseph Rowntree Memorial Trust. It is also partly financed by the European Commission.

Ironically, say critics, it is the Commission's support of free trade that is running the risk of causing a fall in world prices for labour and focusing attention on fair trade initiatives.

(Photographs omitted)