breaking resolutions

I think I’ve decided to break a New Year’s Resolution. Indeed, it is only February, but this resolution is from last year. 13 months is a reasonable length of time to try something out before reviewing the decision, right?

Last year, I resolved that I would not buy (black/green/white) tea or coffee unless it was Fairtrade*

*or otherwise ethically certified in some other tightly controlled way (I decided Rainforest Alliance was insufficient).

I had already been trying to keep these factors in mind when buying boxes/bags of tea. This resolution made a difference as I started to include “having a cup of tea after my meal in a pub” type buying as well as “in a supermarket trying to decide which box of chai to buy” type buying.

The aim was to educate myself about which establishments served Fairtrade tea and/or coffee, and which products they offered, as well as (of course) to support producers and workers’ rights through buying Fairtrade certified products. I know that Fairtrade is a crude measure and that there are lots of other important issues when trying to shop ethically (e.g. how companies treat their staff all the way along up to the person who actually serves you; their business practices outside the UK). But one has to start somewhere.

Fairtrade logo on a saucer

(the saucers in the M&S Cafe all have this on them)

The resolution was successful. Perhaps not a 100% success rate, but I think I broke it fewer than 5 times over 13 months (as stated, it allowed me wiggle room: I could order non-Fairtrade hot chocolate, or a “tea” like peppermint that included no camellia sinensis) and that was mostly by accident (blurting out “tea” when asked what drink I wanted without thinking).

Over the course of the year, I learnt a lot. Some places serve Fairtrade tea and coffee: M&S cafes, AMT Coffee, Cuppa Cino. Others serve Fairtrade coffee but not tea: Starbucks, Pizza Express. Others do neither: Costa Coffee, Caffe Nero, most pubs. Some companies are involved with charitable / social responsibility projects, but don’t come under any form of certification, e.g. Lavazza coffee (used by many pubs), Starbucks “Tazo” tea. There is enough Fairtrade tea/coffee on the high street/railway station platform that one can generally get a cup without much hassle.

So. Why give this resolution up, if it still seems to be a good thing, and, moreover achievable?

Because it’s becoming a burden, and one where I now think it’s not worth the angst it causes me. I believe that angst can be good and useful and necessary as a spur to action, but I think I’ve worried about this issue enough.

I will still prefer to buy from places which sell Fairtrade, particularly AMT Coffee and Cuppa Cino who have everything (applicable) Fairtrade (as this makes me think that the companies actually care about ethics, rather than just bowing to consumer pressure on a few items). I will still read the fine print of advertising and try to work out which products have which certifications attached to them. I will still try to find out about other charitable / ecological / social responsibility projects that companies undertake. But I will also occasionally have a cup of tea in a pub without worrying.

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4 Responses to breaking resolutions

  1. Anna says:

    Hi,

    I wanted to address your comment that “Rainforest Alliance was insufficient.”

    Rainforest Alliance certification is built on the three pillars of sustainability — environmental protection, social equity and economic viability. Certified farms curb deforestation, conserve soil and water, reduce waste, minimize use of agrochemicals and provide habitat for wildlife. Further, workers benefit from safe work conditions, good living conditions, just wages and access to healthcare and education for their children.

    (Learn more about Rainforest Alliance certification: http://www.rainforest-alliance.org/sites/default/files/publication/pdf/ag_cert_difference_en_hz_jan10.pdf )

    In comparison to FT, Rainforest Alliance certification emphasizes improving farming, rather than alternative marketing schemes. The Rainforest Alliance teaches farmers to farm smart with a farm management system, growing their bottom line and conserving the fertile soils and natural resources on which their children will depend. Any farmer’s success depends on crop quality, productivity and cost control. The Rainforest Alliance program addresses all of these. It gives farmers more control over their own futures and empowers them to be better business people. Successful farmers learn to control costs, increase production, improve quality, build their own competence in trading, build workforce and community cohesion and pride, manage their precious natural resources and protect the environment.

    (Learn more about how RA compares with FT: http://www.rainforest-alliance.org/agriculture/faq-fairtrade )

    Learn more about our work in the tea industry: http://www.rainforest-alliance.org/publications/newsletter/change-brewing-tea-industry

    I would be happy to address any questions you may have.

    Cheers,

    Anna

    • Hi Anna,

      Thanks for your comment, and for the links. I do think it’s great that the Rainforest Alliance exists and is making tea production more sustainable, and obviously any certification and progress is better than none.

      However, I will admit I am quite skeptical about how much the Rainforest Alliance certification is “greenwash” (my concerns are similar to those you can find by Googling “rainforest alliance compared with fairtrade” and clicking on almost any result). I value the Fairtrade certification more highly, in particular because it guarantees a minimum price for farmers that is above the cost of production and because a product is certified (rather than a farm). (I also don’t like the fact that the RA logo can be used on products that are only 30% RA certified, but that’s a minor point and I understand that you want farms to be able to use the logo while they are in the process of converting to 100%). For me, shielding farmers from the volatility of international markets which are entirely out of their control is extremely important, which is why I choose Fairtrade.

      “Further, workers benefit from safe work conditions, good living conditions, just wages and access to healthcare and education for their children.”

      I would very much like to see data on this – although I couldn’t find any when searching the website. Is there a report or something you could point me towards?

      Thanks,

      Eudoxia

  2. Anna says:

    Hi Eudoxia,

    Please see the SAN farm standards, via: http://sanstandards.org/userfiles/file/SAN%20Sustainable%20Agriculture%20Standard%20July%202010.pdf
    Section 5: Fair treatment and good working conditions for workers (page 24-30)
    Section 6: Occupational health and safety (page 31-37) and
    Section 7: Community relations (page 38).

    As you noted, we do allow companies to use our seal before they have reached 100% certified content, but have made a commitment to scale up to 100%. In part due to our demanding certification standards, it takes time to build supply. Allowing companies to use the seal as they scale up to 100% still has a positive impact on workers, their families and wildlife – which is of key importance to us. I also want to note that FT has come to agree with this approach since their seal now appears on products that are less than 100% certified.

    Cheers,

    Anna

    • HI Anna,

      Thanks for getting back to me and for the link – that’s exactly the sort of information I was hoping for. Thanks also for bringing to my attention the fact that the Fairtrade certification is now occasionally allowing exceptions to the rule that “all ingredients that can be Fairtrade must be Fairtrade” for composite products – looking at their website (http://www.fairtrade.net/fileadmin/user_upload/content/2009/standards/documents/generic-standards/2011-06-08_GTS_EN.pdf) this seems to have come in last year and to be quite tightly controlled in terms of length of time exceptions are granted for (although I suppose a company could keep on asking for exceptions). I’ll have to make sure I look carefully at the backs of products for the “X% of the ingredients certified Fairtrade” information! However, I believe (from searching their website) it is still the case that any tea sold as Fairtrade must be 100% Fairtrade, which is slightly different from the Rainforest Alliance situation – but I will be carefully reading the packaging of any tea I buy in future …

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