This article was first published in Beat magazine.
It’s Fair Trade fortnight – which undoubtedly is ace. But what exactly is Fair Trade? Lou Pardi spoke with Jasper Coffee founder Wells Trenfield and coffee producer, Wilson Colindres Cerrato to find out.
Coffee is a tough crop to grow, and until recent times the grower didn’t see much of the reward – middle men who bought the product and on-sold it became fat cats and the grower was left in poverty, or worse, the actual workers were slaves. “[In] the years before Fair Trade, every individual producer was selling to the local traders and almost all the proceeds stayed with the people they were selling to, not with the producers,” explains Cerrato, through a Jasper’s team member who’s interpreting from Spanish.
Fair Trade is an accredited trading system which first came to Australia in the year 2000. Fair Trade compliance includes consideration of safe working conditions, fair pay for workers, access to unions and plenty more. It’s not just about growers getting a fair price for their products. “People do not know and do not understand that the most important thing in Fair Trade is the premium. It’s not just the money that the individual grower gets. By far the most important part is the premium,” says Trenfield.
The premium is an additional payment which the buyer pays the Fair Trade cooperative. In the case of Jasper’s and the cooperative of 42 coffee producers which Cerrato is a part of, this means that Jasper’s pays a fair price for the product, and then an additional ‘premium’ which is set aside. “The premium is put into a trust which is managed separately from the money the organisation gets from other activities. It is separate from the price that the producer receives for their coffee,” says Cerrato. “Once we receive 100% of the premium from all the coffee exported, the total of all the partners and associates are united in assembly to decide on the investment of that year’s premiums.”
“Jasper Coffee has been buying Honduras coffee for around five years and this is a particular cooperative in the hills of Honduras, which we get this particular coffee from,” explains Trenfield. “We made an effort with one of our staff who was in Honduras last year to do a project researching the benefits and how Fair Trade worked at the cooperative level, for all of those people. She brought her research back to us and as a consequence of that we invited Wilson to come and be part of Fair Trade fortnight.” Cerrato says of the trip, “The primary objective of my visit is to see how the system works on the other side – how it works on the consumer’s part versus the producer’s part, which is what my experience is. Also to have a more close relationship with our buyers and Jasper Coffee.”
“Our cooperative got into Fair Trade in the year 2000,” Cerrato explains. “Fair trade has allowed us to make some investments with the premium: in buildings and infrastructure, planning and warehousing, projects to improve the quality of coffee, bringing education to the communities where we live – public school systems. We had the opportunity as well to implement credit systems for the producers, which allows us to offer credits under interest of the National Bank.” “So they can have better rates for international credit,” Trenfield adds.
It took five years to move 100% of the Honduran cooperative’s production to Fair Trade, and during that time, some producers who couldn’t get Fair Trade prices became demotivated and stopped production. “Then when we moved 100% of production to Fair Trade, the year after we got Fair Trade prices, we could bring back the producers and compensate to the producers all the effort that goes into making coffee,” says Cerrato.
From Jasper Coffee’s perspective, Trenfield says, “[Fair Trade] changed our whole business. We now have substance behind the coffee we are roasting and selling. We have substance with respect to having a connection with all the people and the growers. It gave us some ammunition to move the coffee into the community – into the cafes and into the supermarkets, with a very different message, compared to what has been around before – when the message has always been that coffee has to be from a third world country keeping people in poverty. Fair Trade was a way for us to help those people raise themselves out of poverty and in turn deliver us continuity of that coffee, because those people would now feel that it is worth producing that coffee.”
Ask your local caffeine dealer for a Fair Trade hit or visit one of these friendly purveyors for your fair trade coffee or tea fix:
~ 267 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
~ Prahran Market, 163 Commercial Rd
~ Chadstone Shopping Centre, Fresh Food Precinct
STREAT carts at
~ Melbourne University Student Union, North Court outside Melbourne University Student Union Building
~ Ground floor of Melbourne Central next to the escalators to the trains
380 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
31a South Crescent, Northcote, 3070 (cnr Mason St & South Crescent)