Friday, July 6, 2007

Fair Trade Certified

"Whatever you do may seem insignificant, but it is most important that you do do it." -Ghandi

For me the most important thing about my tea is simple: is it Fair Trade Certified. Most of the tea/tea ware that I buy comes from Rishi, not because the quality of their tea is excellent, which it is, and not because their tea wares are some of the fines in the world, which they are, but because they have one of the largest selections of Fair Trade Certified (FTC) teas. I choose to support companies that share my priorities. See also Silver Tips Tea.

True, if you taste in tea is as eclectic as mine, it is not always possible to purchase FTC tea. There are only a smidgen of FTC puerh or green teas, almost no white tea, and no authentic oolongs. Still it is important to me to do what I can when I can. I can't comfortably use tea as a way of appreciating an other's culture, if I am exploiting them in the process.

Which is how I stumbled upon FTC, not by exploiting foreign labor, but by seeking to explore China through tea. I thought I liked tea, but I had no idea until I saw Rishi's Travelogue on their FTC project in Yunnan, China. I was in love. It was a new experience, knowing the people who grew my tea, seeing their faces on the side of my tin. It drew me in. No more mass-produced blends of English Breakfast or what not. This was personal.

Sounds great, what the hell is it?

In the U.S. all FTC products are certified and monitored by an independent, third-party company, Transfair USA. They are part of an umbrella corporation, Fairtrade Labeling Organization (FLO), which includes Canada, Japan, and 17 European countries. FLO establishes Fair Trade criteria and makes annual visits to producer groups to ensure that the benefits of Fair Trade are reaching the farmers.

The Fair Trade Principles include:
  • Fair price: Democratically organized farmer groups receive a guaranteed minimum floor price and an additional premium for certified organic products. Farmer organizations are also eligible for pre-harvest credit.
  • Fair labor conditions: Workers on Fair Trade farms enjoy freedom of association, safe working conditions, and living wages. Forced child labor is strictly prohibited.
  • Direct trade: With Fair Trade, importers purchase from Fair Trade producer groups as directly as possible, eliminating unnecessary middlemen and empowering farmers to develop the business capacity necessary to compete in the global marketplace.
  • Democratic and transparent organizations: Fair Trade farmers and farm workers decide democratically how to invest Fair Trade revenues.
  • Community development: Fair Trade farmers and farm workers invest Fair Trade premiums in social and business development projects like scholarship programs, quality improvement trainings, and organic certification.

  • Environmental sustainability: Harmful agrochemicals and GMOs are strictly prohibited in favor of environmentally sustainable farming methods that protect farmers’ health and preserve valuable ecosystems for future generations.
Like tea, Fair Trade is another example of how my job in specialty grocery facilitates my hobbies and passions. I have been thankful for the opportunity to support Fair Trade not only as a consumer but as a retailer. I believe in this with all of my heart, but having taught classes on Fair Trade and participating in events, I know that are many skeptics. If you have questions, or you would like to know more, or if you just like clicking on all the links, I will leave several for the cynical, the curious, and the obsessive-compulsive.

Basic FAQ Advanced FAQ Social Benefits Producer Profiles FTC Tea & Herb Program More Pictures by Sean O'leary Where you're going if you don't buy Fair Trade


Salsero said...

Nice post, Alex. Solid information along with your eloquently impassioned argument.

It's surprising there is so little attention to these issues in our cyber-teahouse. Thanks for opening the closet door.

Brave man, stout heart. Here, here!

perpleXd said...

The Fair Trade concern has of late become much stronger, at least here in California. And it makes so much sense, especially for a commodity such as tea--which can give the mind insight into the interconnectedness of all things. Goods are too often seen as just that: a good, with the price being the all important identifier and the only thing a consumer concerns himself with. The truth is that this good has passed through many hands and the money the consumer pays passes down through those hands. Fair trade makes sure that some responsibility is taken to respect the humanity of those hands with fair compensation going to the producer. Two teas of the same market price may involve completely different market schemes--in the non-Fair-Trade scenario the manufacturer may be sitting fat and paying pennies to import the tea from some poor farm. Fair trade on the other hand keeps the farmers happy with fair compensation. Not only is it a more humane choice for the consumer to buy fair trade, it also helps ensure a quality product since the farmers are more likely to produce a quality product if they feel they are being compensated fairly rather than exploited.

You touched an impassioned vein in me, can you tell? Thank you for bringing this to light!

Space Samurai said...

Thank you both for the warm and supportive responses.