- Posted by ROASTeCoffeeBuzz
- Wed, 10/26/2011 - 13:09
Coffee Trade: Fair vs Direct
Here’s a question for you: Everything I know about Fair Trade I learned from
2. Third world farmer
3. Seattle coffee company that changed coffee culture while burning the beans
4. Fair trade USA website
In case you didn’t select choice #5, here’s yet another article on the subject, with a comparison to direct trade included. Because, according to Jesse Hirsch in today’s article for Oakland area readers, many consumers still don’t understand the differences. Hirsch points out a few.
Fair trade has been around longer than direct trade and it is credited with bettering the lives of countless farmers from third world nations. It sets standard minimum prices that are considered to be fair to all farmers, and for many crops in addition to coffee. It also helps whole communities due to the surcharge, or about twenty cents a pound, that goes to the community for projects selected by the farmers. These can be anything that improves the community life, be it plumbing projects, schools, roads etc. There’s also a thirty cents per pound charge which goes to promote organic farming practices. So any higher price you pay for Fair-trade goes to the farmer and his entire community while supporting organic farming. To qualify for the percs, the farmers must meet set standards in their ecological and labor practices.
Direct trade, which many roasters prefer to call “relationship coffee”, eliminates the middleman. While Fair-trade still buys through buyers or co-ops, Direct trade coffee is purchased directly by the roaster. He or she might make several trips yearly to the farms, to make sure higher farming standards are followed and to provide input. This in a way results in roaster custom-grown coffee; the roaster acts as consultant to the farmer. One says, “Working directly with the grower ensures the coffee is actually grown sustainably, and the working conditions aren’t subpar. Our prices aren’t cheap, but we can sleep with a clear conscience.” This clear conscience comes with a high price, as roasters have to absorb the travel costs to visit the farms – or pass it on to the consumer.
Basically the difference seems to come down to a matter of who you want to trust and who you want to benefit from your coffee dollars. While Direct trade benefits the farmers, it does nothing for the community as a whole. And either way, the consumer is either trusting the fair-trade certifier or the roaster himself to determine the farming and labor standards. At present, with Fair-trade being the oldest and more widely followed of the two venues, Fair-trade certified is the easiest to find – ROASTe has twice as many Fair-trade coffees as it does Direct trade and direct from farmer coffees.
Readers may be interested that last week BBC radio interviewed me about our campaign back in 1976 to import instant coffee from Tanzania to the United Kingdom. It started the idea of ethically sourced coffee in the UK. The broadcast is now available on YouTube (4 minutes):
Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea holds the TMs on the words "Direct Trade" and "Relationship Coffee", so really, this is just part of Intellis mega brand http://www.trademarkia.com/direct-trade-77103602.html
EricBNC | Wed, 10/26/2011 - 16:38
Seems like both methods benefit the farmer, roaster and customer - I don't have a problem with either system of coffee procurement. Smaller farmers need co-ops more than larger ones - can a small farmer in Ethiopia supply enough coffee or even prep it properly to supply a large roaster's needs - and if a farm is large enough and integrated enough to handle their own prep, then why should they go through a co-op if a roaster is willing to write them a check?
Good post, thanks for writing it. You're quite right on the issue of trust ... it's definitely where the rubber meets the road.
Nevertheless, the whole "Fair Trade vs Direct Trade" debate is largely a false dichotomy.
The fact is, Fair Trade coffee has its roots in direct relationships and many roasters who sell their coffee as Fair Trade still do (though it's no longer the only option. Conversely, many Direct Traders still go through coops for their coffee and, in fact, there isn't uniformity in terms of directness of relationships or standards.
There are some great posts about this on the Coffeelands blog, but in particular there's a great quote from Counter Culture's Peter Giuliano, one of the oft-described "big 3" of Direct Trade companies....
"I believe that Direct Trade is a subset of Fair Trade, and therefore there is no Fair Trade vs. Direct Trade. It is very possible for a Fair Trade Certified roaster to be also a Direct Trade roaster – and vice versa – there is much common ground between the two. I don’t want to support a false dualism. There are, however, Fair Trade Certified companies who don’t “do” the Direct Trade thing, and some companies use Direct Trade as a kind of substitute for Fair Trade in their language."
intrepid510 | Wed, 10/26/2011 - 14:27
I don't know which one is better. I would hope that the organizations that run the fair trade certifications have a pretty good over view of the process, and with direct-trade it seems like it would be easy for a roaster to just see what the farmer wants them to see and as long as the coffee is good it would be hard to complain.