Fairtrade has become rather like the Soil Association in Organics; that being the 'big daddy' and subject to many similar pressures, from those wanting the badge.
However there are other organisations working in the same field, both here, in Europe and the USA.
It's a complicated subject, and for those who want to delve deeper I am going to point you to various websites and articles, then try to highlight some of the differences as we see them.
Ethicalcoffee.net, eacoffee.co.uk, UTZ, Fair for Life, the book Unfair Trade by Connor Malcolm, countless Guardian and Ethical Consumer articles over the years, the Zaytoun website, and a great facts and figures graphic on fairtrade.org are all useful.
UTZ is headquarted in pragmatic Amsterdam, and similar to Rainforest Alliance, sets no floor price, but, like the others, conforms to ISEAL standards. Its badge appears on many large and small European brands. Notably, MacDonalds subscribes to this.
The mechanism of Direct Trade is simple. You find a cocoa producer and make contact. You may go and see them. This farmer, (who may be an individual and not part of a cooperative and may also be too poor or too small to pay the joining fee for Fairtrade) will check the market price on his ever-present phone, send you pictures, and agree a price. An ongoing deal will be struck with goods and money passing by normal trade channels . The farmer will become part of the story of your product and the character of his product will inform yours. A symbiotic relationship.
Well, the biggest selling Fairtrade product in the UK is the four finger Fairtrade KitKat, (oh and the second is the two finger!) from our friends at Nestle. Is this good or bad?
Under the slightly strange concept of ‘mass balance’, Fairtrade allows 30% of the mass in the product to qualify for certification. What's more, that’s not in every bar, but only the batch; so your KitKat may contain 30% or 0% Fairtrade cocoa and sugar and your mate's bar may be 100% but you will never know. Why? Possibly to get the business and the badge, but it is not consistent nor really very clear.
However, it's good for the extra Ivory Coast farmers roped into the system, it's good for Fairtrade; with the extra licence fee going to raise consciousness, further the cause and keep down fees across the board.
But! Do remember that this is the same company that promoted powdered baby milk sales in poor countries and bribes retailers to have its very high sugar confectionery prominently displayed close to tills, in schools and in hospital vending machines.
This does guarantee livelihoods and working conditions but you do wonder whether they might be better off growing food and why you don’t see Fairtrade Kenyan green beans...
Here are just a few of the suppliers we stock; Equal Exchange, Traidcraft, Clipper, Tropical Wholefood, Pearls of Samarkand, Infinity and Suma, Biofair, Grumpy Mule, Matthew Algie, Suki, Divine, Billingtons, Chai Latte, Karma Cola and Gingerella, Kingsoba, Pukka, Steenbergs, Zaytoun, Earthy-exclusive Belvas Truffles, Stellar and Elementos Wines, Roundsquare Roastery Coffee and The Chocolate Tree. A list that grows every year.