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Fairtrade Facts: why it’s ok that we’re not certified

As you might know by now, we make being a direct trade company a huge priority at Pact. Going to origin to source our beans is important to us, not just because it means our Head of Coffee, Will, gets to personally pick the incredible coffees on our menu, but because it allows us to form friendships with our farmers. Plus, cutting out unnecessary means we can pay our producers better prices for exceptional beans. It’s a win-win, right?

Still, we get a lot of questions from curious customers wondering why we’re not Fairtrade. It’s true, we’re not Fairtrade certified, but we think that’s OK, and to save any confusion, we thought we’d break down for you.

Fairtrade 101

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 depending on the region, but is around $1.50 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 isn’t Fairtrade certified, but it’s our promise to always we pay farmers 25% 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 speciality 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), which means it doesn’t guarantee 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 Pact customers can rest assured, knowing that their 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.

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, in 2013. 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 100% of the coffees we sell are now sourced directly by us, we can now 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. You can read about it in our CSR: Pact Coffee Corporate Social Responsibility Report 2019.