Dad was nice enough to give me the morning off today so I can do a little Christmas shopping with a pretty girl named Jessica down in London but I woke up this morning and the mall here is closed till noon as London tries to dig itself out of the snow. To replace shopping, I headed over to the Starbucks close by to indulge in an expensive coffee and the newspaper. While I sipped my $3 coffee I got thinking (I know, that’s a dangerous thing) about why people are willing to pay such a premium for fair trade coffee but when they go to the grocery store they want their food as cheap as possible.
When I got back to the house I was discussing this phenomenon with Jess and her roommate Nadine and a couple things came out of the conversation. First off, people feel like holding the Starbucks cup in their hand signals some sort of status to others and they may not be concerned with the welfare of coffee farmers at all. If that is the case though, why would people be willing to buy the bulk beans for their coffee makers at home? This aspect is particularly interesting for me because there was one bag of coffee branded, “From Farmers for Farmers” (may not be the exact wording, but it was something like that). If Starbucks is willing to give shelf space for this bulk coffee then I feel it is a safe assumption that they have customers that derive some sort of utility from the knowledge that their purchase is helping to directly support the people who worked so hard to grow the product.
At first I was a bit upset because I automatically assumed that people were willing to help coffee farmers by paying a premium from coffee that ensured that the farmer was receiving a fair price for their products but they aren’t willing to pay a premium for the pork that my family works so hard to produce. But then I started to think more about it and two key things came to light.
Firstly, I have never missed a meal and while the losses on our farm have been staggering in the past few years; I still live in a country with the social services that will help to ensure my basic needs are always met. Coffee farmers in the developing world don’t have the luxury of social services and depend on their farm income to provide absolutely everything for their family. That being said, whether we are farming in the developed or developing world, I feel that farmers still deserve to be paid a fair price for the fruits of their labour. Herein lies the problem; if a Canadian consumer wants to ensure that their coffee dollar is distributed equitably they purchase fair trade coffee. If they want to do the same when they buy ham at the grocery store, there is no easily accessible mechanism do so.
To fix this problem, why not develop “fair trade” brands for more things then just coffee. If we look globally, certain countries are already making steps to make it easy for their consumers to buy domestically produced products, helping to support the prices for their farming neighbours. The UK launched the Red Tractor campaign, essentially creating a full line of food products that are certified to be produced by British farmers to the highest standards of quality and safety. Today this brand is carried by multiple retailers in the UK making it much simpler for British consumers to support British farmers with their food purchases versus their tax dollars.
It is time for Canadian government to start working with our retailers to start similar initiatives. Cynics will disagree with me but I have faith in my fellow Canadians. If we make it easier for them to buy Canadian then they may be willing to pay just a bit more for the assurance that they are getting domestically produced products of the highest quality while supporting Canadian farmers at the same time.
Interested in learning about the Red Tractor? Check out www.redtractor.org.uk