Ethical Policy and Certified Schemes
At Coffee-Direct, we are often asked by customers if the coffees we sell are Fair Trade certified, or organic, and also if our products are packaged in recyclable or biodegradable packaging. The following may give an idea of our stance on these issues, as well as detail our ethical policy.
Coffee-Direct’s Ethical Policy
Our choice not to be involved in Fair Trade Schemes and Institutions or the Organic Trade Association does not mean we do not provide coffee that has been sustainably grown or ethically sourced. We very much operate on positive ethical terms with our partners, and believe social responsibility can be met in other ways. We believe in equality for all coffee growers, be they large or small businesses, with equal opportunities in some of the less affluent areas of the world, as well as the more prosperous ones.
A good indicator of how ethically a coffee has been produced is its quality and how it has been cultivated. Farms where coffee trees are shade-grown in high altitudes, and beans are hand-picked, usually produce the highest quality coffee. Many such farms are family run businesses, sometimes handed down through generations. Higher quality coffee means premium prices being paid to farmers, who may subsequently benefit more than those belonging to a Fair Trade scheme. This can allow them to invest in better farming methods and improve conditions for their workers. Such incentives encourage farmers to focus on quality, rather than the fixed rate price paid to Fair Trade participants for their coffee, that is less likely to incentivise them to improve on quality. At Coffee-Direct we only source the very finest origin coffees, and these form the basis of our extensive range.
Fair Trade Certification
It was after much consideration that Coffee-Direct made the decision not to be enrolled in the Fair Trade scheme, for a number of reasons.
Whilst we appreciate it is noble in its fundamental purpose and objectives, over the years we have come to the conclusion that the Fair Trade scheme isn’t suited, or indeed beneficial, to all those who may be involved in coffee production, and that the strict rules applied to the small plantations, farmers and producers we work with may sometimes be detrimental to the overall cause of creating a fair business environment.
The Fair Trade certification mark may help socially conscious people make decisions about which products to buy, but it would be unfair to assume that any goods that don’t bear the mark have not been ethically produced. Fair Trade certification can be expensive and not all growers, especially those who run smaller farms, can afford it without having to join a cooperative. Then, there are larger producers that may be able to afford it but are not eligible to join a cooperative, so must be excluded from the scheme. In some cases, the paperwork involved in order to join the Fair Trade scheme may prove to be a challenge to some because of language or literacy barriers, preventing them from joining. We would prefer that all coffee growers have an equal opportunity to trade, and not just those who can afford the initial outlay of Fair Trade certification, as well as the time and resources needed to meet its requirements.
As well as the expense, the criteria that must be met to enable coffee producers to obtain Fair Trade and Organic certification has an impact on many aspects of the coffee supply chain. The requirements can also pose problems and create obstacles for some farmers. Restrictions on transportation options is just one example of how membership can prove to be more of a hindrance than a benefit, and appears to undermine the very values that the Fair Trade scheme was set up to safeguard.
Fair Trade coffees account for a relatively small selection of the diverse assortment of coffees to be sourced from around the world, as the scheme is geared mainly to work for coffee growers who belong to cooperatives. Many single origin estates and small farms with a limited number of trees are excluded from joining the scheme, as well as some of the larger plantations. If Coffee-Direct only stocked Fair Trade or Organic Certified coffees, this would limit our range considerably, and some of the finest coffees the world has to offer would not be available for your enjoyment.
In an ideal world, all produce would grow in abundance without the use of unnatural chemical fertilisers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. Indeed, before such things were ever used, organic farming of coffee was the norm, but over the years changes in the way coffee is cultivated has made chemical intervention more necessary. That being said, many farmers today who cannot afford the expense of chemical pesticides and fertilisers may still use traditional farming methods. Unfortunately, coffee is prone to diseases such as coffee leaf rust, and pests like coffee berry borer, and sometimes entire crops can be destroyed, seriously affecting the livelihoods of coffee growers and their workforce. The requirements for organic certification, however, are so stringent that farmers would not be able to use even the absolute minimum of fungicides or pest control to avoid such a catastrophe. The process of becoming Organic Certified can be expensive, time-consuming and labour-intensive, and many farmers do not have the necessary funds or resources in order to achieve this.
In respect of the use of recyclable or biodegradable packaging of our products, we are very conscious of the impact on the environment of many of the packaging materials still in use today, and that there is an obvious need for change. It is probably fair to say that the industry in general needs to revolutionise how products are packaged, and we are actively working with packaging companies and material developers to introduce ecologically sound solutions across our range.