As you can see on the left hand side, this post has been written by me, Brendan. I'm a Customer Champion here at Pact, so you may have seen me in such emails as 'Dude, where's my coffee?'. But besides helping our customers out, I'm really passionate about our 'green credentials' here. So you may find me popping up on the blog from time to time, just to let you know how we're helping our coffee farmers out in return for their excellent beans.
Not so long ago you had to keep a keen eye out for the Fairtrade logo on your weekly shop. Nowadays, products with the small green, blue and black insignia pop up so often it’s easy forget what it means. Put simply Fairtrade is an auditing firm. Companies pay Fairtrade to audit their farms for safe and fair practices, in turn farmers are guaranteed to be paid minimum wage. This wage fluctuates but is around $1.40 per pound, depending on the region and includes an extra $0.20 to spend on community projects.
We at Pact agree that this is a great deal. Businesses get the products they need and farmers are treated fairly. So why bring it up? Well...
Pact is not Fairtrade certified but on average, we pay farmers more than the Fairtrade rate.
When Fairtrade was launched in 1992, it was the only way a conscientious coffee consumer could ensure their brew was ethical. Well, just two decades later, there are far more viable and sustainable alternatives. And guess what? Pact Coffee is one of them!
Truth is, comparing Fairtrade certified beans and specialty coffee is like saying chalk and cheese both go well on crackers. Fairtrade certification is designed for the commodity market (the supermarket shelf and the high-street coffee chain) but makes no measures to ensure quality. As quality is so important to us at Pact, Fairtrade certification is both unsuitable and unnecessary!
So Pact Coffee tastes better, “but what about your farmers?” I hear you say.
What are we doing to make sure our beans are sourced ethically?
Because we buy high-quality coffee beans, the farmers receive a higher price for their produce, on average, than their Fairtrade counterpart. How do we know that? Well, we know our farmers.
When we love the taste of a coffee, we want more of it. So we return to our farmers year after year to buy their beans. This is fantastic for them and for us! They have the security of knowing that their next harvest will be bought by us (so they can plan ahead and invest money into their farm and community) and you guys and girls can sleep at night knowing that your favourite Colombian is coming back next year.
And it gets better.
How can this get any better you ask? Well, have you ever wondered whether the man who lovingly farmed your coffee has a size seven or size eight boot? Or what his family eats for breakfast? No? Ok, fair enough, but if you did want to know, that’s something we can tell you!
Our relationships are not just long-lasting but direct too, and it works the other way. Farmers can contact us with any problems that they have or just to update us on how our coffee beans are doing this year.
So next time you don’t see the Fairtrade logo on your bag of Pact coffee, remember that it means that not only do we love our coffee, we love the people who bring it to us as well. That’s why we pay higher prices, return to them each year and are always available to help them and vice versa.
A little note…
As our fantastic Head of Coffee, Will Corby, starts to source our green beans independently, we can start to publish more information about the farmers that we work with and the price they are paid per pound of coffee. Watch this space...
A little correction...
Due to the high number of interesting and insightful comments, we have decided to make our position on ethical coffee sourcing clearer and more detailed. And we’ll begin with a little correction:
We can guarantee that Mercanta pay above the Fairtrade rate every single time they buy coffee from a farmer.
We apologise for the confusion that the term ‘on average’ has caused.
Are we planning to become Fairtrade? If not, why?
One of the most frequently asked questions was whether we would choose to have our farms Fairtrade audited in the future? And if not, then why?
There are two reasons why it’s unlikely Pact will become Fairtrade certified:
Firstly, we believe Pact does not have to be Fairtrade certified in order to conduct sustainable economic practices. While the idea of paying above a certain price for coffee beans sounds great, there is a downside. There’s a disconnection between the price and quality of the coffee. We believe that instead of guaranteeing a minimum price for coffee, regardless of quality, we should pay more for better quality beans. By placing emphasis on coffee’s quality and
ethics, rather than just the latter, we are able to foster relationships with farmers that last decades, ensuring their lovely tasting beans are constantly in demand.
A great example.
San Antonio is a Guatemalan coffee farm. We bought our first batch of coffee from Antonio Pullin, the owner of the farm, last year. Because we were so impressed by the quality of the coffee, we agreed to buy his next harvest in advance at a deservedly high price. This meant that he could invest in his farm before his 2014 harvest was sold, knowing that he had a guaranteed income from us. Antonio wants to work with us because it makes his business sustainable and more profitable, and we want to work with Antonio because he grows and processes great coffee!
Secondly, there's the issue of variety. If we bought large quantities of coffee from a small number of farmers, Fairtrade auditing would be an inexpensive and economically logical option. However, we make it our business to buy small batches of seasonal coffee from a large range of farms. The cost of paying for Fairtrade to audit each of our farms would be extremely high, particularly for a young company like us.
Pact’s ethical sourcing policy
We understand that it’s not enough to just say why we aren’t
Fairtrade. That’s why we are committing to a viable, sustainable and transparent alternative policy for ethical sourcing. As I explained in the ‘little note’ section of the original blog, we will soon begin sourcing our coffee beans independently of Mercanta (our middle man).
The first of our independently sourced coffees will arrive in the next couple of months. This means we can publish the prices we pay to each of our farmers. Having a close and direct relationship with our farmers will also enable us to provide you with more detailed descriptions of who they are and how we work together.
Over the next couple of weeks Pact will begin developing our own ethical coffee sourcing policy. Stephen Rapoport (Founder & CEO), Will Corby (Head of Coffee) and Rob Carter (CFO) will be looking to answer three key questions that have arisen for this project (partly from your comments below):
1. How much more than the Fairtrade rate will Pact pay its farmers?
2. What external auditing body will Pact use to guarantee that we follow through and stick to our policy 100%?
3. Third, as many of you pointed out, we cannot currently guarantee that the labourers who pick our coffee are paid a national minimum wage as Fairtrade works towards
. So we'll be asking what extra measures can we put in place on wages for labourers and on fostering the relationships between the farms and their communities?
By addressing these issues Stephen, Will and Rob will be able to clearly map out Pact’s code of ethics and offer even more transparency to our community.
To keep you all in the loop, we are planning on holding an ethical sourcing event at Pact’s Bermondsey HQ. Customers and non-customers will be invited to sit down with Stephen, Will and Rob to express their concerns regarding how we source our coffee. We would love everyone to come down and give us constructive advice around our ethical sourcing policy.
If you would like to contact Stephen (firstname.lastname@example.org), Will (email@example.com) and Rob (firstname.lastname@example.org) directly about Pact and ethical coffee sourcing, they would love you to hear from you.