Simple Things – Hot drinks, hot topics: Coffee, tea, cocoa and sugar

20 November 2017 | ResolutionPossible

As one of our Simple Things we challenged you to swap some of your standard cups of coffee and chocolate treats for Fairtrade versions. How did that go? We’d like to highlight some of the other Fairtrade products you can find and the impact your spending power has on people all over the world including central and eastern Africa.


Coffee is grown in Asia, South America and Africa. Ethiopia and Uganda are the main coffee producers in Africa.  The coffee market fluctuates according to weather, disease and other factors which affect the prices different producers can get for the coffee. Therefore farmers never know what the demand for their coffee will be and many struggle to make a living. This also has a wider impact on communities and countries where coffee is the main export.

Buying Fairtrade coffee means that the farmers who grew it are guaranteed to get a minimum price regardless of the state of the market protecting their livelihoods. Furthermore Fairtrade Premium allows them to invest in their businesses and be protected against the issues such as an unstable market, food security and climate change. The Fairtrade Foundation also offers training and support.


Although the organisation is under much scrutiny, the Fairtrade Foundation are currently the biggest organisation pushing for economic justice for coffee bean farmers (infographic by the Fairtrade Foundation).


Tea plantation workers and small-hold farmers can struggle to make a living from tea. Tea plantations can be destinations for child labour and trafficking victims. Furthermore without regulation or funding plantations can be very dangerous work environments.

Fairtrade aims to guarantee a livelihood for workers on small plantations and larger plantations that adhere to strict health and safety and labour standards. There is a Fairtrade Minimum Price which varies by place and is currently $1.40-$1.50/kg in eastern Africa. This guarantees the workers a steady wage that they can live on; an assurance they may not get from work with non-fairtrade tea. Additionally, Fairtrade Premium is $0.50/kg which is paid to producers for investment in the business and communities. Kenya is the main producer of tea in central and eastern Africa whilst Malawi and Zimbabwe are the major tea producers in southern Africa.

“Fairtrade has specific standards for plantations that support worker organisation and representation to negotiate with management and progress towards living wages. Workers need strong organizations to represent them in these negotiations. Our new Hired Labour Standard greatly strengthens workers’ Freedom of Association in practice. We also changed the rules for the Fairtrade Premium, so workers can spend up to 20% of the Premium for cash or in-kind benefits, or up to 50% if the majority are migrant workers.” – The Fairtrade Foundation

They are also participating in other initiatives related to the production of tea, such as Tea 2030 which aims to build a more sustainable tea industry with better wages along the supply chain.


Cocoa is a bean which is used to produce chocolate. 90% of the world’s cocoa is grown on small family farms who earn their living by growing and selling cocoa beans. Cocoa is a delicate and sensitive crop that must be protected from sun, wind, pests and disease. Despite their hard work, farmers gain very little from the global cocoa trade. Even with an increasing demand for cocoa beans and its rising price, farmers do not receive sufficient benefits. They remain in poverty as their income fails to cover household expenses and production costs.

Fairtrade chocolate is another item you can buy to help combat human trafficking and poor working conditions. Have a look at Stop the Traffik’s current campaigns for more ways to get involved and make an impact such as signing petitions.

Ongoing research to improve the calculation and implementing of living wages across the whole industry is currently being done by The Fairtrade Foundation.


Sugar is a billion dollar market but it can be very difficult for farmers to get their product into the market in order to make a living. This is a two fold issue. Firstly, all of the sugar exported from Africa comes from sugar cane and the only way to turn the cane into sugar is through sugar mills. Farmers sell to the mills who produce sugar which they then sell. Farmers are at the mercy of the prices the mills set. This means that if the mill doesn’t pay them much for their sugar cane they are running at a loss. Secondly, EU and US markets favour their own sugar beet meaning that less sugar from African, Caribbean, Pacific (ACP) countries is sold.

“The price that smallholder farmers receive for cane can fail to cover the costs they incur to produce it, leaving them in a debt trap and with little capital to reinvest in farms. This affects the entire community, as sugar cane farmers often rely heavily on their families for help, limiting people’s opportunities for education and perpetuating the cycle of poverty.” – The Fairtrade Foundation

Buying Fairtrade certified sugar makes a significant impact on farmers, their families and communities. There is no minimum price set for Fairtrade sugar because of the complicated nature of pricing it. However, Fairtrade Premium at $60 per tonne of sugar ($80 per tonne for certified organic sugar) is guaranteed in addition to the price negotiated between producers and traders.

Currently, less than 1% of sugar is Fairtrade. As a consumer you can change this by demanding ethical practices from large brands and by investing your spending power in companies who are committed to using Fairtrade sugar. You can do this for plain sugar or any products in which sugar is an ingredient. The Fairtrade Sugar Programme enables farmers to work with these companies.

Future changes to EU legislation will present challenges for small holders so supporting them through Fairtrade will become even more important.

Other Fairtrade goods

Bananas are another great product that can be bought from Fairtrade farmers in countries outside of Africa. Beyond food there are other ways to make your impact on developing countries positive such as considering Fairtrade cotton and conflict free gold and diamonds. Check out our articles on minerals  and ethical chocolate.

Let us know your opinions and experiences of Fairtrade in the comments section below, email your opinion to us or share your thoughts on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!

You must be logged in to post a comment.