Alternative Grounds is Cuppa Change’s fair trade coffee supplier, and they do a great job providing us with freshly roasted coffee so that we can support our international development projects.
Last week, Linda Burnside of Alternative Grounds did a fair trade presentation for my son’s Grade 6 classroom. This was, of course, very interesting to me, as I still have so much to learn about fair trade. So while my son and his 11 year-old colleagues learned all sorts of interesting things about fair trade, I was madly taking notes in the back of the classroom.
Here is some of what I learned:
Alternative Grounds is part of a fair trade co-operative. There are 24 members like Alternative Grounds in the co-op, and together they work with 21 different coffee producer groups from 11 different countries.
Linda told the kids about the goals of fair trade:
– to build capacity and opportunity for independent, small coffee producers around the world
– To help people use their own knowledge and skills, and share that with others
– To help people have a good quality of life.
Fair trade achieves these goals in several ways:
– It provides access to a market. Small coffee producers need infrastructure, roads, transportation and communication in order to sell their product. Fair trade gives them a way and a network to do that.
– Fair trade works with democratically organized farmers.
– Fair trade means commitment: coffee co-ops work with producers over time, building relationships and commitment. Coffee farmers don’t have to always worry about finding their next buyer. They can plan for the future.
– Fair trade means paying a fair price for the coffee.
– Fair trade means providing access to credit, so that coffee farmers don’t get paid just once a year, but get paid installments over time for their crop. In this way, families can live with less hardship throughout the year.
– Fair trade means transparency. This means that anyone can see the price that co-ops pay for their coffee, and that the contracts between producer and buyer are open. There is a great system called Fair Trade Proof which focuses on transparency in the fair trade coffee industry, allowing anyone to trace the coffee from a roaster to a farmer and vice versa, and to see the contract under which the coffee was sold. Alternative Grounds is part of this system.
– Fair trade is committed to education (hence Linda’s presentation to my son’s Grade 6 class).
– Fair trade products sold through Alternative Grounds are certified organic and are grown under rigorous environmental standards.
– The fair trade system is accountable to all parties.
Ultimately, fair trade is not a label or a charity, it is a business model. And more than a business model, it is a social and economic movement for justice.
In conventional trade, the goal is usually about making the biggest profit possible. There is often very little relationship between the makers of a product and the purchasers. So, if there is no relationship, the buyer may go where the product is cheapest. That means possibly going to a country with fewer human rights laws, or where the environmental standards are low.
Fair trade is about people, environment and quality of life before profits.
Linda told the Grade 6 kids that she has a question that is often asked in the Fair Trade world, but that is also a question that will prove useful to them throughout their life:
Who benefits, and why?
In Linda’s world, if the answer is not the small farmer, it’s not fair trade.
Thanks, Linda, for a great presentation, and for your great coffee.