LASSCO came across this letter in a local magazine written by the Director of the Wallingford Tea & Coffee Co. Ltd:
I write with some concern about the proposal you published in the January magazine from Jane Mutisya to make Wallingford a Fair Trade Town.
I work in the Tea and Coffee trades and have considerable experience in the Ethical Trading initiatives that have been in force over the last 5 years. I suggest that some enlightenment is required before taking such a proposal any further.
Prices for commodities vary because of market forces. In the case of tea and coffee, too much of each commoditiy is grown. To be more specific, too much poor quality tea and coffee has been grown which has led to low prices for the producers of both tea and coffee in recent years.
Tea is sold in large quantities by both auction and private treaty. The auction system ensures that there is competition for teas which can only benefit the producer as it is a transparent and competitive environment. As it happens, prices for both tea and coffee have risen and look set to retain current high levels due to increased demand as well as uncertainty in production in some tea and coffee growing areas. The returns to all producers have increased accordingly.
Then there are environmental issues. In the coffee industry, organisations such as the Rainforest Alliance and Utz Kapeh are designed not just to ensure that the producer benefits from high prices for well produced quality coffees, but that the environment is not harmed and indeed, benefits from properly managed agricultural practices.
What may not be so well known is that the UK tea industry is funding the Ethical Tea Partnership which is monitoring a clear understanding of conditions on 1500 tea estates in 7 countries and to validate them by a continuous cycle of independent audits. It ensures that tea producers comply with local legislation and union agreements relating to terms and conditions of employment, health and safety, education, maternity provisions and housing.
None of these Ethical initiatives cost the consumer a penny. Fairtrade does cost the consumer a premium. It is worth pointing out that this premium encourages producers to increase production of goods for which there was an over-supply as in tea and coffee production and if demand declines will only lead to lower prices again. This can only be a logical development as market forces always prevail. It is also of some concern that recipients of Fairtrade premiums are selected on criteria which suggests that all other trading methods are unfair. A concept which is not only misleading but borders on being un-Christian as not all producers benefit from Fairtrade.
Finally, when talking of Christianity, I find it regrettable that the Churches will buy only Fairtrade products. Small businesses such as ours should not be ostracised because of the Fairtrade product. As a result of the Church's decisions to buy only Fairtrade products, I have discovered that they generally buy their requirements from supermarkets who are the only sizeable stockists in the UK able to afford Fairtrade certification which is to the detriment of small businesses.
By all means let Fairtrade offer their products but only as a means of complementing other acceptable Ethical Trading practices and not be the sole purveyor. They certainly should not trade on the consumer's potential guilt of production issues in far-off countries. We have enough of a controlled economy as it is without inviting more controls. Meanwhile, we will continue to supply quality Teas and Coffee products from ethically approved tea and coffee producers.
Stephen Kitching, Director, Wallingford Tea & Coffee Co. Ltd.
Does 'Fairtrade' therefore belong in the same bin as 'Bottle Bank', a sustainability nonsense that has more to do with middle class guilt than saving the planet? We recommend the LASSCO Line, 'Recycle? Humbug! REUSE IT!'