Fair Trade. Does it help?

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May 31, 2014 by Beans Ahoy

After a short break Beans Ahoy is back and starting off this new series with a four year study conducted by British researchers which has discovered that Fair Trade has failed to assist farmers. Fair Trade is something that Beans Ahoy has commented on in the past (https://beansahoy.wordpress.com/2012/11/19/ethical-coffee-what-is-it/) as we don’t feel that it is necessarily having the intended impact. Indeed Fair Trade, it seems to us, is more of a marketing exercise. A way to get people to feel better about paying a higher price for the products, but we just can’t see how it has necessarily helped. Vast parts of the world that supply Fair Trade products seem no better off.

The study (which can be found here: http://ftepr.org/wp-content/uploads/Cramer-et-al-How-to-do-fieldwork-CJDS-SI-2014.pdf) is comprehensive and looks into the “methodological foundations” of many studies into the effectiveness of Fair Trade. They highlight the “ill-considered sampling methods” which are “often compounded by ideological blind spots”. It is important to note that the study took place amongst Ethiopian and Ugandan farms and therefore cannot comment on the effectiveness in South and Central America. However, Beans Ahoy has also heard from Central American farmers that Fair Trade has, as far as they have seen, not improved the situation.

What we think best is not to simply believe the rubric of a scheme or movement. Question what changes it actually makes and whether it actually achieves what it sets out to. This article is not designed to discredit or otherwise prove Fair Trade wrong, it would need far more detailed analysis than I am able to provide, what it does do is highlight the need to question and analyse schemes to make sure they work well.

One organisation that Beans Ahoy feels is on the right track is More Than Fair (http://www.morethanfair.org/) who try to bring together growers, roasters and retailers. Building this link between the growers and buyers made ever easier with technology will ensure a better product with buyers able to see and understand the product they are buying. This link will help to push up quality and cut out the middle man, giving a bigger slice of the proverbial pie to the growers and those involved in the production of the coffee.

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