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CRU in Conversation: Will Browning of the Fairtrade Foundation
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CRU in Conversation: Will Browning of the Fairtrade Foundation

We talked to Will Browning, the Head of Out of Home and Hot Beverages for the Fairtrade Foundation. His team works across a broad range of businesses, supporting them with their sustainability strategies.

We got to chat all things Fairtrade, from looking at issues coffee growing communities are facing, how Fairtrade premiums are helping to eradicate those issues, and delve a bit deeper into their new partnership with B Lab.

Can you tell us more about the B Corp & Fairtrade partnership?

"Partnerships have become vital to redesigning the global economy in a sustainable and inclusive manner.  It is only fitting that our two organisations join forces now, at a time when sustainability standards for businesses are no longer recognised as just a nice to have but as a critical tool in transforming the global economy to benefit all people, communities, and the planet.

B Lab’s social and environmental business standards define how businesses can be a force for good. Based on stakeholder input, research, and established best practices, these standards are the basis for B Corp Certification requirements as well as B Lab’s impact management tools. For its part, Fairtrade Standards are designed to support the sustainable development of small producer organisations and agricultural workers in developing countries. The Fairtrade Standards incorporate a holistic blend of social, economic and environmental criteria. By choosing both B Corp and Fairtrade certifications, businesses demonstrate their sustainability and social impact commitments to and through their entire supply chain.

Our partnership with B Lab is aimed to advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through responsible business practises, sustainable supply chains and global corporate transparency. The main goal is to share knowledge and collaborate in the development of standards, advocacy, public campaigns and mobilisation. It will also be looking at creating touch points for relationship building between both organisations’ respective networks.

Through this key partnership, we can combine our efforts to bring more businesses into the conversation and to work collaboratively across our different activities to address the most pressing challenges we face as a society around climate, trade and human rights."

What are the key issues that Fairtrade tries to eradicate? 

"Overall, we work to support trade justice for farmers and workers, but there are specific issues in each commodity. In coffee, there’s been a triple crisis facing farmers – climate, market volatility, and the ongoing impact of Covid 19.
The accelerating effects of climate change are precarious for farmers but also for crops, coffee is sensitive to changing rainfall and weather patterns which causes pests and diseases, 60 % of coffee is under threat of extinction – but with increased incomes, and with extra funding for big projects there’s a lot producers can do to protect their lands, farming in a way that makes the soil healthier and less prone to landslides for example.
Market volatility is a second key issue - 75% of coffee is produced by smallholder farmers, so the rising costs directly affect people’s livelihoods. With bills soaring in the UK, many us will be concerned about rising costs of living here but for many agricultural communities that have previously been struggling, increased costs of production threaten farmers’ survival; and when crops are wiped out to a blight/pests and diseases/storm then this can make farming families even more vulnerable.
The price of coffee changes an average of every three minutes due to weather events, fluctuations in currency or supply and demand – making it an incredibly unstable commodity. To put this in context, coffee farmers today receive an estimated 3 percent of the cost of a cup of coffee sold in a coffee shop. And between 2018-2020 the price fluctuated around US$1 per pound causing a crisis for farmers. It drove thousands of coffee farmers into poverty.
Then finally Covid-19 hit, putting even greater pressures on communities.
It’s for this reason we have a safety net price (the Fairtrade Minimum Price) which only kicks in when the market price dips like this. Fairtrade is the only global sustainability label that guarantees a minimum price for coffee. Producers can and do attract higher prices for quality, specialty coffee varieties."

What are the main benefits of Fairtrade premiums on these local producer communities?

"There are three main benefits. They are:

  1. "Economic benefits: Fairtrade empowers communities to organise into cooperatives and improve their negotiating position within the supply chain. This can enable them to negotiate a higher price for their product than the conventional market price. Fairtrade also improves access to agricultural services like organic training and premium markets. As a result, farmers have an incentive to farm better and sell more. The Fairtrade Minimum Price supports farmers to become more income-secure and less vulnerable to poverty. And finally, the additional income through the Fairtrade Premium, and additional sum of money paid to farmers on top of the price they’re paid, serves well to encourage better farming, strong cooperatives and investment in collective assets to improve crops and yields.

  2. Environmental benefits: The Fairtrade Standards cover key areas for environmental protection, including energy and greenhouse gas emission reduction, soil and water quality, pest management, biodiversity protection, prohibition of genetically modified organisms and harmful chemicals and waste management. For some farmers, the Fairtrade (and organic) Standards have resulted in switches to less toxic pesticides, which, as well as being better for the environment, has a positive impact on producer’s health. Fairtrade can provide access to finance, support and expertise in tackling climate change, supporting long-term environmental sustainability.

  3. Social benefits: Fairtrade supports farmers and workers to realise their rights and negotiate better terms and conditions of their work through trade unions and collective bargaining. Fairtrade also provides producer support and expertise in deepening gender equality. Investment of the Fairtrade Premium by cooperatives in community development projects is improving the quality of lives of rural communities."

What is a Fairtrade premium, and how are they implemented to help improve the lives of the people in the communities?

"The Fairtrade Premium is an additional sum of money paid to farmers which is used for social, economic or environmental projects – how it is spent is decided on democratically by the cooperative, to the benefit of the community. The Fairtrade Minimum Price and Premium is vital because it offers farmers much-needed financial stability, so they can meet their basic needs (food, shelter, school, healthcare), and also protect their communities and the environment. The Premium can be spent in a whole host of ways, from infrastructure projects such as building schools, cash payments to workers to support them during crises such as COVID-19, or to investing in tools and methods for more sustainable production of crops.
Farmers need support and funding for Climate adaptation, that’s why in addition to the impact of Fairtrade sales – price and premium – the system also invests in and fundraises for multi-stakeholder programmes like our Climate Academies (we have 19 in 6 countries), one of which is in Kenya and we’ll be profiling this Fairtrade Fortnight. Fairtrade Producer Networks run these, and farmers themselves often have the solutions, but they provide training to ensure coffee farmers have access to the knowledge and tools to tackle climate change. But they cost money.
In addition to this, the international system comes up with many ways we can support farmers, other than through the market, for example Producer Network the CLAC has set up a Fund for Climate Eventualities and Catastrophic Events. Starting with more than US$200,000, it provides relief support after catastrophic weather events, as well as funds for preventive measures.
Ultimately it goes back to trade justice - farmers need higher incomes to improve their lives, so for example, even if they are not part of programmes, they have the extra money to invest in their farms and grow other crops for local markets, to be less dependent on coffee between harvests, which is good for their land and enriches the soil but also creates the flavour notes we enjoy in our coffee. When farmers are worried about where the money for their next meal is going to come from, they can’t be expected to be implementing eco-friendly, low carbon solutions."

What is the importance of Fairtrade in the coffee industry specifically?

"At its core, Fairtrade helps to provide stability - helping farmers to enjoy secure and sustainable livelihoods. This is particularly relevant in coffee, given the volatility of the industry. Over the last year, we have seen a spike in coffee prices (by almost 78%) and average prices in November 2021 had reached a 10-year high. This massive rise has been caused by multiple factors, including drought and recent frosts in Brazil, shipping container shortages, and higher transportation costs brought on by Covid-19 has pushed costs up for businesses sourcing coffee and we understand that impact for the industry.
But that higher price hasn’t necessarily been good news for farmers, they’ve lost their crops due to the climate impacts and then faced debts when they couldn’t deliver on contracts, not to mention the increased pricing. By June 2021, it had caused the cost of coffee production to rise by 17% – which we know has made it very difficult and expensive to trade coffee. 
However, because our partners see the positive impact for communities, businesses continue to source Fairtrade coffee, and we also know sustainability is such a big issue for the trade, as such we would urge other businesses to consider sourcing Fairtrade because of all the safeguards we have in place - for farmers and workers, as well as the environmental protections.
Science is showing that 50 percent of the global surface area currently being used for coffee farming may no longer be suitable by 2050, due to climate change – the industry has a vested interest in ensuring farmers can adapt.
For consumers, our analysis shows that Fairtrade is a highly trusted certification and people really care about farmers and workers being treated fairly, free from exploitation."

What is your favourite story of a positive impact Fairtrade has had on a community?

"One of the best stories I have come across is about the Oromia Coffee Farmers’ Cooperative Union, which is in fact the source for CRU’s most recent addition, the Organic Ethiopian Premier origin.
The Oromia Coffee Farmers’ Cooperative Union is based in the Oromia region of Ethiopia – the birthplace of coffee. It has been Fairtrade certified since 2002, with around 90,000 of its members growing Fairtrade coffee.
Oromia is one of the first producer groups to pilot the new Fairtrade Climate Standard. There is a project underway which will help slow the rate of deforestation and tackle that other big challenge to coffee farmers – climate change. Four production centres have been set up to make and distribute 40,000 energy efficient stoves to 20,000 households in coffee growing communities in the Ghimbi region, which has created jobs and additional income for the local community.
These stoves will replace the traditional three-stone fires used in Ethiopian cooking. Every household uses one stove for regular cooking and one to bake injera, a flatbread traditionally made from teff flour. No meal in Ethiopia is complete without injera. The farmers pay for the stoves partly in cash, and partly with the carbon credits that are produced by using the stoves."
There's a bit more detail in the video below on this fascinating way Fairtrade is helping this region:



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