These Brands Are Going Above And Beyond For Their Farmers
What does life look like beyond Fairtrade? We talk to two coffee and chocolate brands who are forging their own susainable paths in sourcing the best ingredients and supporting farmers.
Lockdown would have been even harder had I not had copious amounts of coffee and chocolate to see me through.
I’m not alone, we are a sugar and caffeine dependent global society but these two staple sidekicks have gone from noble or artisan professions to lowest common denominator quality to make them as cheap (and accessible) as possible - and over the last 20 or so years, various ethical brands and certifications are trying to turn that around.
When it comes to chocolate we’re talking $140 billion a year, and the industry that just keeps getting bigger.
Our collective sweet teeth means the chocolate industry grew by around 5% a year. In the UK alone, chocolate accounts for £4 billion in revenue.
And when it comes to coffee, globally around 170 million bags of beans are sold on the market.
In the UK we drink 95 million cups a year, and it adds just over £2 billion to our GDP.
Sadly, the majority of the cocoa and coffee farmers and growers don’t see a decent return from the growing size of these markets, and human rights abuses, environmental damage are just two of the side effects of these massive industries.
You love coffee and chocolate right? And want decent quality beans and bars?
Then we all have a role to play in ensuring the people responsible for the raw materials are being paid fairly, so their business is sustainable, attractive for future generations and inspires them to look after the land they have, in a way that’s good for the planet.
While the global certification, Fairtrade, is a brilliant place to start, for some sustainable brands looking to shake up the supplier status quo, Fairtrade is not enough.
I dived deeper into the coffee and chocolate industry - and it’s farmers - with Doisy & Dam and Pact Coffee - two relatively new brands, who go beyond what’s mandated by Fairtrade.
Pact Coffee sources its coffee directly from farmers in nine countries strung across the equator.
There is no one else in their super transparent supply chain.
By buying directly it means they can control the price they pay for coffee and they’re committed to paying 25 - 125% over and above Fairtrade rates.
Will Corby, Head of Coffee at Pact, is responsible for finding new farmers to buy direct from and helps them to produce the top quality specialty coffee, that Pact has become known for.
“We’re giving access to people to market who don’t currently have it,” he says.
“At the very core of the way we source coffee, we’re looking for farmers who can have the potential to grow great coffee or are producing great coffee but currently, there’s no one there to buy the coffee from them or they don’t have access into the supply chain other than through a local purchase point where they will, in most cases, be paid less than the cost of production.”
Will tells me that it costs $1.25 to grow a pound of coffee beans, but over the last few years the price of coffee on the open market (where most coffee brands buy their beans via middle men), has remained stubbornly around $1.20. Fairtrade’s minimum price across the world for its coffee farmers is $1.40.
It’s not hard to see why growing coffee doesn’t feel very sustainable to the small scale farmers working the land.
Over in the world of chocolate, Doisy & Dam have been around for a few years, making delicious ethical chocolate, and they pride themselves on not using any palm oil (which is rife in most big chocolate brands).
They’re vegan friendly and source most of their cocoa from Colombia.
“We work with brilliant suppliers who match our values. One of which is Luker Chocolate, who have been working on the ground in Colombia for 150 years. They have a fantastic relationship with the growers – and in their words – ‘talk to famers not farms’, meaning they recognise and respect the people, communities and livelihoods affected by cocoa production” explains Liv Sinclair, Head of Marketing at Doisy & Dam.
Going Beyond Fairtrade
What does Fairtrade mean for farmers?
According to Fairtrade, "Fairtrade sets social, economic and environmental standards for both companies and the farmers and workers who grow the food we love. For farmers and workers the standards include protection of workers’ rights and the environment, for companies they include the payment of the Fairtrade Minimum Price and an additional Fairtrade Premium to invest in business or community projects of the community’s choice."
We've come to look for this as the ethical standard in coffee and chocolate, and look for the Fairtrade logo when buying, but is it enough?
“In terms of Fairtrade, this is what brands should be doing as a minimum. In the UK, if you employ someone, you have to pay them a minimum wage. It’s the law, but you wouldn’t see a brand announcing this on their website because you already expect that level of ethical practice,” explains Corby
“We like to pay above Fairtrade. The base price that Fairtrade sets is a great starting point, sure. In certain places, it would be enough to live on and it might make a profit but there’s no guarantee that someone who’s being paid $1.40 is a profitable coffee grower. For us as a company, that’s not good enough.”
Doisy and Dam also see Fairtrade as a starting point, not as a goal.
“For us, going beyond Fairtrade means that people are treated with respect, listened to, understood and treated as stakeholders in the whole cocoa industry.
We believe as a business and as individuals that you vote with your wallet, and that investing in suppliers with values that align with ours not only results in better cocoa and chocolate, but in a better community and livelihood for those who grow it.”
"Investing in suppliers with values that align with ours not only results in better cocoa and chocolate, but in a better community and livelihood for those who grow it"
Small but sustainable
Part of the issue when you have global supply chains, even short beans to bar or beans to barista ones, is accountability.
Sustainable accreditations as we’re seeing often don’t go far enough for forward thinking brands, and certifications such as organic can be reductive in the long term and cost-prohibitive for small independent farmers, outside of co-operatives.
While it’s useful for us as consumers to see a simple label like ‘sustainable’ or ‘organic’, it’s worth diving into a brand’s ethics and commitments beyond these terms.
When brands buy ingredients directly and support smaller farmers, they’re supporting them to continue the farming they do, which is often inherently sustainable.
“Almost all the farms we work with have been in families for generations. They understand better than anybody else what the impact on their local environment is,” explains Corby.
“For them, the piece of land they live on is their income. Anything they do which negatively impacts it is negatively impacting both their future of their home and the future of their children who want to grow up and become coffee farmers. It’s very rare to find a single piece of resistance to enabling someone to be able to sustainably manage their farm.”
Deforestation is a huge problem within the coffee industry, but it’s a result of not paying coffee farmers enough to make a decent living on the land they have. Without it they need more land (pure quantity over quality) and so cut down forest to make way for more coffee.
“Not only do we pay them more so they can make a sustainable profit but we help them understand how they can better implement everything they do to create a productive resource that’s going to last for future generations. In fact, farmers who work with us are going out and actively creating sustainability projects off their own backs” says Corby.
There are so many aspects to being a sustainable brand, that the process should be seen more as a journey than a one time achievable goal.
“Being small means it’s hard to get everything right in one go. Whilst we are really proud of our commitment to sustainably sourced cocoa, one thing we are less proud of is our packaging.
We’re proud of the fact that all the cardboard we use is FSC certified and recyclable, and we’re currently working on getting all of our packaging to be recyclable – whether at home or at a larger collection point, like a supermarket, explains Sinclair at Doisy & Dam.
“We are hopeful that as the whole industry is moving towards greater sustainability commitments, that the bigger companies with dedicated packaging research budgets can innovate and share with us.
What we can control right now is our communication around recycling, so we will always be clear to consumers on our products’ recyclability status and never mislead.”
Long term investments
For both brands, their sustainable approach isn’t just about the price paid right now for ingredients. It’s about investing long term in their farmers, growers and manufacturers and future talent of the farms.
Doisy & Dam's cocoa grower partner, Luker Chocolate, is deemed ‘revolutionary’ in the cocoa industry as they manufacture in the country of origin i.e. Columbia, unlike many other big chocolate brands.
“This means they do as much processing of the cocoa in the country as possible, and whilst this seems like a small decision, it has a huge impact.
It ensures that the most value remains in the country of origin, rather than whisked off to Switzerland or Belgium, like the big companies in the cocoa industry, and creates more jobs for the growing community in Columbia.
This practice ensures a symbiosis between the growers and Luker as the processors, as both are equal shareholders in ensuring cocoa production is maximised and sustainably grown for now and the future,” Sinclair says.
As well as keeping the ingredients in the country for longer, this approach also helps spread more knowledge and upskill growers and farmers, who can learn from each other too.
“Luker share theirs too; and give advice not only on cocoa production, but on fruit trees and hardwood too, so that their growers have multiple crops and therefore multiple income streams. Luker works hard to ensure their growers are as happy and successful as possible.”
Corby is also often in Columbia, where he works with a growing number of small scale coffee farmers.
“When I go to Columbia, I’m on the TV and the radio multiple times talking about what PACT’s doing, trying to deliver hope to all these farmers that we’re going to one day work with all of them.”
PACT works with its farmers to help them increase the quality of their coffee, or expand their farms, which then inspires other farmers in their communities to want to work with him.
“It’s one of the key reasons why we’re able to check up on the sustainability and everything from child labour and slave labour and they wouldn’t do anything to jeopardise that relationship and that means we have these communities who just want to get involved in working with PACT. We’ve got this supply chain ready to go and full of excited people so we just need to keep growing.”
Cocoa growing is known for having many issues within its complex, mainstream supply chains, not least child slavery. But a transparent supply chain is key to unpicking a lot of that. Doisy & Dam pride themselves on having a fully transparent chain,
“We pay a premium price on top of each kilogram of cocoa we buy to donate to the Luker Foundation, a non-for-profit separate foundation dedicated solely to improving the community from which our cocoa is grown. It is stakeholder-led, meaning that projects are carried out when and how they are desired by the community. The community are prioritised and focused on, and really listened too."
"Two projects we’re sponsoring at the moment are both focused on inspiring the younger generation. The first is building additional wings in the local school in Necocli, and the second is an entrepreneurship programme for young people, coaching them around sustainable, income-generating initiatives.”
So with all this hard work going into building up unique supply chains from scratch and going far beyond what most people think is the ethical standard, what is it that both brands want to achieve?
“What we want to achieve is a better world with better chocolate, made with better ethics and better ingredients,” says Sinclair.
“Our goal, since we started in 2013, was to make fun delicious chocolate that made the world a better place just by eating it.
We want a world where farmers are paid fairly, chocolate is full of natural ingredients, and huge swathes of the rainforest aren’t deforested for palm oil.”
“Using sustainably sourced cocoa means we know our products are a little more expensive than our competitors, but ultimately we know that our suppliers, farmers and customers understand that the chocolate industry at the moment isn’t fair, and that we need to make sustainable chocolate the norm.”
Corby says, “Our mission statement is that we want to make coffee a force for good.
Plus we want everyone in the UK to be introduced to what proper coffee tastes like. It’s more like a wine or a flour, than just one drink. There are flavour profiles and new things to discover, all the time.”
I’ll raise a cuppa (of properly brewed, sustainably sourced coffee) to that.
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