Conversations Over Coffee
Many coffee companies are now talking about fairer trade, though much remains to be done
- Many of the 25 million smallholders who grow 80% of the world’s coffee fail to make a reliable living from it, say the Fairtrade Foundation.
- In 15 of the last 25 years, the global price of arabica coffee has often fallen well below that guaranteed by the Fairtrade Minimum Price.
In our Coffee Shops report, we compared different certification standards and touched on problems around low wages on smaller Fairtrade farms. Direct trade and value-added models can only be judged on a case-by-case basis, but we have given Solino and Traidcraft a positive sustainability mark for their practice of locating higher value stages of processing in countries in the Global South, in a sector in which the usual practice is to export raw materials to rich countries for processing. Union Hand Roasted explained that while they roast to order in London, they have sponsored members of producer co-operatives in Rwanda and Colombia to roast and pack coffee for domestic consumption.
Coffee for the Forests
‘Bird Friendly coffee’ is another development. Certified by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center in the US, the label guarantees that the coffee is organic and shade-grown, providing a refuge for birds and other wildlife. According to Cafeology, most coffee available in the UK today is sun-grown and may have a range of chemical inputs applied. They say 2.5 million acres of forest has been cleared in Central America alone in the last 20 years to grow coffee.
Cafeology has one Bird Friendly coffee, available from many garden centres, which carries both the Fairtrade and RSPB logo (which has its own brand of Bird Friendly coffee too).
Also new on the scene is Source Climate Change Coffee, which describes itself as a ‘conservation-led coffee company which is founded to protect the world’s forests’. Founder Cristina Talens was inspired to start the company while she was working conducting social audits of suppliers and growers in the Amazon rainforest. Now the company is raising awareness on social media about the COP21 climate change talks in Paris in December 2015.
A number of companies received marks against them in the Habitats & Resources category due to a lack of appropriate published policies on timber, conflict minerals, or palm oil. Others received marks under Pollution & Toxics and Animal Rights for sale of leather items, or under Genetic Engineering for selling non-organic cotton products or foods which could contain GMO ingredients.
Red Mountain instant is the one coffee brand made by Typhoo Tea, whose other tea brands include Heath & Heather, London Fruit & Herb, and Ridgeways. In 2005, one of India’s oldest tea producers, Apeejay Tea – with over 50,000 acres of tea estates – acquired Typhoo.
The Apeejay Surrendra Group also runs hotels, eateries, shipping, logistics and insurance services. It lists Typhoo on its website, but Typhoo’s accounts say the company is ultimately owned by Surrendra Holdings Inc., registered in Panama. Panama slipped off our list of top tax havens when we applied a new rationale using the Tax Justice Network’s ‘Financial Secrecy Index’ (FSI) launched in 2011. However, Panama does appear on the FSI. (See our Tea Report)
In May 2015, Douwe Egberts entered into a joint venture with Mondelez International, the spin-off from Kraft Foods, to create Jacobs Douwe Egberts (JDE) in an attempt to rival coffee giant Nescafé.
Mondelez owns 44% of the new company, with the other 56% owned by Acorn Holdings, an investor group led by JAB Holdings, which also owns Coty, the self-appointed ‘global beauty leader’ featuring in this issue’s Perfume guide. It is this connection that gives the JDE coffee brands, mainly on the instant coffee table, the lowest ranking under Animal Testing and Animal Rights. JDE brands include Douwe Egberts, Kenco and Maxwell House. They are rumoured to be selling off Carte Noire and Café Hag.
Twinings is part of Associated British Foods, which is 55% owned by Wittington Investments Ltd, which is, in turn, 79% owned by the Garfield Weston Foundation. Willard Garfield Weston was a Canadian businessman who created Associated British Foods.
Wittington Investments also owns Fortnum & Mason, while ABF owns Primark, as well as Jordans & Ryvita, Pataks, Sunblest, Kingsmill, and Silver Spoon. Whittard was founded over 100 years ago in London, but more recently was part of Icelandic supermarket group Bauger, until it collapsed after the 2008 financial crisis. Whittard was then taken over by EPE Special Opportunities, an investment fund of EPIC Private Equity (EPE). EPE Special Opportunities is incorporated in the Isle of Man and EPIC has offices in Hong Kong and Guernsey, all of which are considered likely to be used for tax avoidance purposes.
Percol, launched in the late 1980s by an ex-advertising executive, was bought by the Swedish Lofberg family in 2013. Percol claims to hold the title of the first single-origin Fairtrade coffee, while the Lofberg Group claims to be one of the world’s largest importers of organic and Fairtrade labelled coffee. Percol’s first customer was Sainsbury’s, and it now supplies all the major supermarkets.
Clipper was established in 1984 by a couple in Dorset who became involved in the early stages of development of the Fairtrade Foundation. In 2012 Clipper was bought by Dutch company Wessanen which also owns well-known health food brands Kallo and Whole Earth.
See the ethical shopping guide to ground coffee