Why Fairtrade should still be your cup of tea, or coffee!

Martyn Herriott - Monday, April 03, 2017

Few of us can imagine starting our day without a hot cuppa – be it tea or coffee. In Britain alone, we drink 165 million cups of tea and 70 million cups of coffee each day. But how much thought do we put into the millions of farmers and workers who depend on these brews, not to wake up in the morning, but to sustain their livelihoods?

Tea facts

China has 80 million tea growers, India has an estimated million permanent tea workers and double the number of seasonal tea labourers, while in Kenya tea supports the livelihood of an estimated three million people.

Coffee Facts

Coffee is grown in more than 70 countries but over 60 per cent of the world’s coffee is produced by just four of them – Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia and Indonesia. Latin America is the largest regional producer with a 60 per cent share, followed by Asia and Oceania (27%), and Africa (13%).

Global – low prices, low wages & poor working conditions

Globally, most tea is grown on plantations and the sector is renowned for low prices, low workers’ wages and poor working conditions. The main challenges faced by tea growers are low and fluctuating prices for the green leaf they sell and the vulnerability in tea supply chains controlled by large companies. Coffee is the most valuable and widely traded tropical agricultural product and 25 million smallholder farmers produce 80% of the world’s coffee. But many of them fail to earn a reliable living from coffee.

Coffee – can it continue to be boom or bust?

Coffee is well known for being a boom and bust commodity. Global coffee production varies from year to year according to weather conditions, disease and other factors, resulting in a coffee market that is inherently unstable and characterised by wide fluctuations in price. This price volatility has significant consequences for those who depend on coffee for their livelihood, making it difficult for growers to predict their income for the coming season and budget for their household and farming needs.

The coffee supply chain is complex as beans pass hands through growers, traders, processors, exporters, roaster, retailers and finally the consumer. Most farmers have little idea of where their coffee goes or what price it ends up selling for. The more lucrative export of green coffee – beans that have been processed ready for export and roasting – is only an option for farmers if they can form co-operatives, purchase processing equipment and organise export or hire a contractor to carry out these services.

Taste the difference in each Fairtrade cuppa

So how is buying a cup of Fairtrade tea or coffee making a difference to farmers and workers?

With every cup of Fairtrade coffee or tea you buy, Fairtrade-certified coffee producer organisations are guaranteed to receive at least the Fairtrade Minimum Price for their coffee or tea produced. The Fairtrade Minimum Price aims to cover farmers’ production costs, which provides a safety net during times of low price in an environment where the market price of coffee has been below the cost of sustainable production most of the time during the last twenty years.

Through their producer organisations, farmers also receive the additional Fairtrade Premium to invest in business or community improvements and must use at least 25 per cent of it to enhance productivity and quality, for example by investing in processing facilities.

Fairtrade standards for plantations also help to regulate wages, health and safety standards and prevent child and forced labour. And Fairtrade is part of the Ethical Tea Partnership which is working to make the long term future of the tea industry sustainable, so you never have to go without your daily cuppa.

In those early days, there were many who thought that Fairtrade would never catch on. But thanks to the commitment of companies backed by incredible public support, Fairtrade has helped start a revolution in the way we see trade.

Our guest blogger is Anna Pierides who is The Fairtrade Foundation Product Manager for coffee and she can be contacted at

Supplying Artisan coffees, teas, hot chocolate, espresso and bean-to-cup machines in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Surrey and Wiltshire
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