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Ethical Food & Drink – Tea and Coffee

Tea and coffee products spearheaded the fair trade campaign for a better deal for Third World farmers and plantation workers. Now, after y‍‍‍ears of perseverance, the campaign has begun to achieve real success. Nine out of ten people now recognise the Fairtrade mark and know that it signifies a better deal (guaranteeing minimal prices) for the producers. Fairly-traded brands are also making a name for themselves by matching the larger coffee brands in terms of taste and quality.

Coffee cr‍‍‍isis

In 2001 international coffee prices slumped to an all time low, jeopardising the lives of millions of smallholding farmers across the world. This price drop benefited transnational companies and ‘designer coffee’ retailers, as their profits soared while the price of their main raw material crashed. Such corporate gain consigned some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people to extreme poverty. It is estimated that about 20 million households produce coffee crops, which is often the main – sometimes the only – source of cash income. As a result of the crisis, many farmers have been forced to sell assets such as cattle, and cut down on essential expenses by taking their children out of school or even face poverty.

The underlying cause of the crisis in world coffee prices is production consistently outstripping consumption, resulting in excess stocks driving down prices. The obvious solution is to bring supply back into line with demand and to stabilise prices at more remunerative levels. Northern governments have been unwilling to support supply restrictions, however, as oversupply means good business for politically powerful transnational companies.

The effects of this crisis are still resounding over a decade later and the only real way to support those people farming a product we take so casually for granted in the developed world is by seriously considering where your coffee comes from.

    Social Conditions

    Wages and conditions for tea plantation workers are often poor, with living facilities falling below acceptable standards. The fair trade campaign hopes to have a long term beneficial effect on their income and overall standards of life.

    Cafédirect has been tackling these problems by placing growers at the heart of their company as they re-invest over 50% of their profits back into the 40 grower organisations they support across 14 countries, positively impacting the lives 1.6 million people.


    In most tea plantations, pesticides are mixed in the fields without proper drainage and treatment. Workers say that protective masks, goggles or gloves are rarely provided. In large coffee plantations in Brazil and Colombia, cultivation is so intense that natural nutrients are drained away and have to be replaced by fertilisers

    One ecologically sound production method is shade-grown coffee. Shade trees protect the plants from rain and sun, help maintain soil and water quality, and aid natural pest control, thanks to the birds that are attracted to the forest canopy. Sun-grown coffee, on the other hand, requires chemical fertilisers and pesticides, and leads to greater soil erosion and higher amounts of toxic runoff, endangering both wildlife and people. Equal Exchange’s organic coffee is shade grown.

    It is really important to look at the whole company behind some of the Fairtrade brands as not all have exemplary ethical records, especially the supermarkets behind some of own-label Fairtrade. This is why we recommend you choose Cafédirect for your ethical tea and coffee. Cafédirect is our top scoring brand and the only company to have gained Ethical Accreditation from the Ethical Company Organisation (which guarantees a clean record not only on Fairtrade, but also on a whole raft of human, animal w‍‍‍elfare and environmental criteria)

    Key Research

    Below you will find links to the key sections of our ethical research in Food & Drink:

    We have created ethical tea & coffee rankings for the following brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): Cafédirect, Traidcraft, Equal Exchange, Yorkshire Tea, Clipper, Percol, Taylors of Harrogate, Ridgway‍‍‍s‍‍‍, Typhoo, Red Mountain, The Co-Operative, FFI Fair Instant, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Illy, Morrison’s, Waitrose, Lavazza, Jacksons of Piccadilly, Twinings, Douwe Egberts, Lidl, Good Earth, Nescafé, PG Tips, Tetley, Tesco, ASDA, Carte Noir, Kenco, Maxwell House

    Disclosure:  Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning we earn commission if you click through and make a purchase. Placement and use of these links has no bearing in terms of the ethical scores that we give to a brand.  All commission earned by The Good Shopping Guide is re-invested into the research carried out by The Ethical Company Organisation.

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