Fair World Project

After the negative media attention fair trade received a couple months ago from the SOAS report on wage labourers in East Africa, Just Us! was certainly excited to learn that we rated so high on the recent Fair World Project analysis.

As I stated in my blog post then, fair trade certainly has its shortcomings and being transparent about those shortcomings is the only way we’ll learn to do things better. That said, one of the greatest challenges in the evolution of Fairtrade (notice the one-word spelling here, a brand adopted by Fairtrade International) has been its willingness to certify large, publicly-traded corporations and plantations as though these businesses consider the core values of authentic fair trade equally or more than simply maximizing profits. Can the fair trade seal mean more to those types of businesses than just another marketing tool or green-washing device? I’m sure that it can but in many cases it does not.

During our trip to Mexico this past winter to visit producer-partners, we heard stories of buyers offering less than the fair trade minimum for their fair trade certified coffee. Because the commodity markets were so low at the time, producers were actually considering these offers! I was astounded at the audacity of a (presumably) fair trade buyer to even consider such a thing. This is not authentic fair trade and the Fair World Project has made an initial attempt to navigate the complex landscape of ethical claims and certifications that coffee drinkers now face in supermarkets, shops, and cafes.

At Just Us! we consider fair trade to be a multi-dimensional paradigm and price is only part of what fair trade is about. A very important part, yes, but only one part. In the Fair World Project analysis the one point where improvement was suggested for Just Us! was transparency of coffee prices. This will happen when we revamp our website but for the time being we can offer some general figures. We will end 2014 with an average price paid directly to producer co-ops (before shipping, importing, and storage costs) of about US $3.15/lb. Currently, the fair trade minimum is $1.90/lb and the SPP minimum is $2.20/lb. Then there are market prices which have jumped from a little more the $1/lb early in the year to nearly $2 in recent weeks.

The true strength of Fair World Project’s analysis was their holistic approach. As a modern culture we often only take a second or two to consider a product or service before we purchase it. Businesses market their products with this in mind: “Just Do It”, “I’m Loving It!”…that is often all it takes for us to decide what to buy. In the case of fair trade, we’re dealing with a much more complex issue than what company has the stronger marketing skills. Those ideals of open communication, co-operation, democracy, community engagement & investment, minority rights, and fair play that we are taught from a very young age are the foundation of fair trade.  Such ideas are complex and impossible to distill into a catchy one-liner.

The Fair World Project’s analysis tries to touch on many of these foundational concepts of fair trade within the companies considered. Aspects like our democratic work-place and our commitment to working with exclusively democratically organized small scale farmers. We are very proud to be ranked in the top four and humbled to be with such distinguished company like Equal Exchange, Just Coffee and Peace Coffee.