How important is fair trade to you?


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How important is fair trade to you?

Postby Charles » Jan 26th, '10, 10:59

I've written an article on the pros and cons of Fair Trade in premium tea (http://www.tearetailer.com/article_32.html). In short, I believe in the drive for economically sustainable agricultural practices but am wary of the impact of the certification bureaucracies on small farmers, and believe the rules and regulations still leave a lot of room for improvement.

I'm curious how important Fair Trade is to you? What percentage of the tea you buy today is Fair Trade? Finally, how important is Fair Trade to you in other foods you buy?
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Re: How important is fair trade to you?

Postby bsteele » Jan 26th, '10, 11:13

As far as I know, none of the tea I buy is fair trade. I don't seek it out and it's not something that is super important to me when buying tea. I think I've always assumed that most of the teas I buy come from farms where the workers/farmers are doing "fine" economically.

But when I think/hear about the subject more and more, I guess it seems like something I should care about. I just don't dig mega certification systems that you have to buy into just to carry a label (I mean... obviously there's more to it than that... but still... yeaaaah)

Great article, btw. Learned a lot from it.
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Re: How important is fair trade to you?

Postby virago_ns » Jan 26th, '10, 11:44

Another great article Charles. Great Job!
I enjoyed the story with the wealth tea farmer pushing fair trade (particularly on the Americans). Like any good system, there will always be those who corrupt it and take advantage. The big picture is important, getting the tea farmers their fair share. I truly believe this will result in happy farmers, resulting in an all around higher quality tea. I work in the service industry and it's been proven time and again that happy employees make happy customers. Seems logical that happy farmers would take more care and pride in producing their tea.
It's been my experience that when buying from a single family tea estate that the prices are generally higher than that of a larger estate. So in a way the economy is already compensating for a fair trade market as the consumers become more educated. I think in time, like most things, it will balance itself out. I fear that over-regulation could hurt the small tea producers if they are not graded fair trade status based on the selling price of their teas.
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Re: How important is fair trade to you?

Postby Charles » Jan 26th, '10, 11:58

There is no question that well paid workers results in better products which results in higher prices and better paid workers. It's the economic cycle. The flip side is that Fair Trade can actually retard this cycle by propping up growers that SHOULD go out of business or be forced to sell to someone that can actually make the farm profitable by growing products that people will pay for.

Many of the estates in Darjeeling are very profitable and pay their workers very well - far above the typical agricultural worker in India. A few gardens that were unable to compete in terms of quality (and therefore unable to charge premium prices and pay premium wages) went Fair Trade as a marketing ploy. They were then able to sell inferior teas at premium prices. Now the premium Darjeeling estates have started to go Fair Trade because they feel forced to do so for marketing reasons. As a result, a percentage of the premiums will be funding a bureaucracy that wasn't needed (in these estates anyway) in the first place.

The big question, as with any non-profit, is what percentage of the funds go for administrative purposes vs. going to the worker?
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Re: How important is fair trade to you?

Postby LauraW » Jan 26th, '10, 12:13

From the article: "I believe, without reservation, in the concepts and theories behind movements like Organic and Fair Trade. At the same time, I believe that each of these certifications (and a host of other competing programs) are not yet perfect."
+1 Spot on. Don't think I could have said it better myself.
Charles wrote:The flip side is that Fair Trade can actually retard this cycle by propping up growers that SHOULD go out of business or be forced to sell to someone that can actually make the farm profitable by growing products that people will pay for.

Absolutely true.
Charles wrote:The big question, as with any non-profit, is what percentage of the funds go for administrative purposes vs. going to the worker?

I'd love to know the answer to this. Of course, it's going to depend on the company, but it'd be interesting to see.

As for me, I don't go out of my way to search out Fair Trade items; it's like any other product - if it's there, I've heard good reviews, and it's not prohibitively expensive, I'll probably get it. I believe wholeheartedly in the concept, but you're right, the system needs work.
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Re: How important is fair trade to you?

Postby gingkoseto » Jan 26th, '10, 20:05

Currently I go 100% fair trade for chocolates and coffee. For chocolates, I don't have to think hard to decide, since most of my favorite (by taste) chocolates are fair trade anyway. I switched to fair trade chocolates and coffee a few years a go, after seeing and reading about many ugly stories in these trades. As for tea, I don't care much about fair trade because most farmers I know or know of are fairly happy. But it's always possible that there are ugly stories that I haven't heard of yet so if anyone knows some please do share.
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Re: How important is fair trade to you?

Postby Chip » Jan 26th, '10, 21:08

Hmmm, I think we should hijack this topic and talk FTC CHOCOLATE!!! Care to share some fave selections Gingko???

I would like to see more FTC teas out there, but I am not holding my breath too much for Chinese teas to go up dramatically. All of the FTC teas I have had so far have been Chinese.

I do not see reasons to think about FTC for Japanese teas where I am most of the time, they seem to have their act together w/o it.

As with organic certs, I am not overly confident in the system, but Rome was not built in a day.
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Re: How important is fair trade to you?

Postby gingkoseto » Jan 27th, '10, 10:17

Ha chocolates! Most of the time I buy black chocolates of "Green and Black", "Equal Exchange" and "Divine" from Whole Food (which seems to have lowest prices in my area). I like those with 60%-75% cocoa, with some bitter or slight sour aftertaste. But once I tried some 80% cocoa no sugar and realized I could only use it in tiramisu but couldn't handle it alone :P A chocolate I think very unique is Taza. It's expensive ($6 for a small than regular block), but I guess it's not due to overpricing but because the company is in small operation with very small production line. It uses crude cocoa fluid instead of filtrated one, so the chocolate has some fiber texture in it.

Ideally I like black chocolates with nuts (especially hazelnuts), but there seem not many choices, and most nuts are just almonds. Just thought of it, I don't really "100%" buy fair trade. These days, Lindt is closing out their shopping mall stores. EVERYTHING at least 50% off. My girlfriend and I just went crazy buying a lot the other day :o
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Re: How important is fair trade to you?

Postby Veri-Tea » Jan 29th, '10, 01:36

Charles, thanks for this article - it has confirmed some things that I have wondered about but not been sure how to voice, given the fear of looking like a fair-trade heretic. It is so very distressing to hear about the dreadful conditions that tea workers have laboured under, but reassuring to think that opting for the full-leaf and high quality is good for them as well as for us. Down with mass-produced mediocrity! :)

Where would you recommend learning more about the pros and cons of fair trade tea - as you say it is a very emotive issue - I would like to understand both sides more fully.
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Re: How important is fair trade to you?

Postby teacast » Jan 29th, '10, 12:45

gingko wrote:Currently I go 100% fair trade for chocolates and coffee. For chocolates, I don't have to think hard to decide, since most of my favorite (by taste) chocolates are fair trade anyway. I switched to fair trade chocolates and coffee a few years a go, after seeing and reading about many ugly stories in these trades. As for tea, I don't care much about fair trade because most farmers I know or know of are fairly happy. But it's always possible that there are ugly stories that I haven't heard of yet so if anyone knows some please do share.


I agree with this statement. Though I am not a big coffee drinker and don't pay TOO much attention to the fair trade logo, the majority of teas I have had were or are converting to fair trade. I always like to see the tea farmers properly compensated, that way, maybe they will pride their work and it will result in happier customers and better tasting tea! Though this is just my opinion, I would hate to see farmers not get compensated properly for their work in "sweatshop" conditions. Just my opinion though :)
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Re: How important is fair trade to you?

Postby Charles » Jan 29th, '10, 14:23

In response to the question about where to learn more about Fair Trade in Tea:

Unfortunately I must admit that I'm aware of no unbiased deep analysis of the issue. The simple truth is that this is a very emotional issue steeped in a great deal of rhetoric. I've talked to a lot of very vocal "experts" who have gathered all of their information from other vocal "experts". Very few people have studied this question on the ground and can comment authoritatively on what is happening and where Fair Trade is and is not effective.

The vast majority of what I've read about Fair Trade in the US is written with the intent to persuade and so the facts and the analysis are quite skewed. For example, what are acceptable wages and living conditions? What if a tea laborer works for $20 a week and lives with no electricity, running water or access to modern medicine? Is that good or bad? That happens to be the national average for India. Without a meaningful baseline, any data is easily misleading.

I've heard plenty of true stories of terrible working conditions in India and many other tea producing countries. But it's important to note that there are workplace horror stories every day in the news in the US too. The solution to mistreatment of employees is not necessarily certification by an international body.

Again, I LOVE the idea of Fair Trade. I love the goals. I've just learned that grand ideas often get pretty twisted before they reach the ground... especially in developing countries. Example: Are you sure that when your Fair Trade premium goes to the worker it doesn't just allow the garden owner to pay less out of their own pocket?
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Re: How important is fair trade to you?

Postby Jack_teachat » Mar 18th, '10, 11:54

I just saw this today and thought it might be of interest to those who have posted in this thread. It was made by two Danish filmakers in 2009 and is a documentary of their visits to five different tea plantations in Sri Lanka, India, Kenya and Bangladesh, some "traditional" and some "fair trade".

The Bitter Taste of Tea:

http://digital.films.com/play/LSCQKZ
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Re: How important is fair trade to you?

Postby ChiQ Tea » Mar 30th, '10, 14:44

Thanks for the post Jack_tea, very worth while watching.
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Re: How important is fair trade to you?

Postby Shihali » Jul 26th, '10, 17:23

Chip wrote:I would like to see more FTC teas out there, but I am not holding my breath too much for Chinese teas to go up dramatically. All of the FTC teas I have had so far have been Chinese.

I do not see reasons to think about FTC for Japanese teas where I am most of the time, they seem to have their act together w/o it.

Fair Trade certification is limited by country. Japan, South Korea, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and all countries in Europe are ineligible.
China has some extra complications with Fair Trade certification that I am not familiar with.

I'm surprised you got mostly Chinese FT teas; the packaged ones I see in the local FT outlet are from Sri Lanka.

Fair Trade started out working with coffee co-ops in Latin America, and while they work with tea estates due to the lack of tea co-ops, the standards imply dealing with producers of significant volume rather than individual farmers. The book "God in a Cup", about the coffee retailers pushing the bleeding edge of specialty coffee and their world, has some interesting commentary from them about Fair Trade coffee and its effects on the ultra-specialty market. From their point of view, Fair Trade encourages turning out a mid-quality product; splendid coffee is blended with indifferent coffee to produce the co-op's coffee, and there is no way to buy only the best coffee at any price.
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Re: How important is fair trade to you?

Postby Chip » Jul 26th, '10, 22:00

I'm surprised you got mostly Chinese FT teas; the packaged ones I see in the local FT outlet are from Sri Lanka.

TBH, I have only had a handful of FTC teas ...
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