Surprise, surprise they got a lot of stick for it, given Nestle’s practices over the years. How could an organization such as the Vegan Society dare to ‘endorse’ Nestle by approving one of their products to carry its logo? Surely this is unethical and against the very values they stand for? The Vegan Society responded saying they endorse only products not companies. Many people threatened to withdraw their membership in protest.
Ok, I understand. I’m not rushing out to buy one of these new products. But some perspective please. Are the Vegan Society helping large corporations engage in co-optation or vegan-washing? Are multinationals jumping in on a thunderous vegan bandwagon? Arguably yes.
I’ve seen all this play out with Fairtrade certification, there are innumerable products available with a fair trade certified logo that are from Big Corp. Has it harmed or helped the cause of fair trade? Both. You bring a wider audience, more revenue to those who need it but the risks of diluting the fair trade brand are high, and now we see some large companies creating their own ‘fair’ label, which carries far less accountability. But to ask that the Vegan Society become some kind of moral, ethical arbitrator of companies is not workable either, not yet anyway. Nestle seems a perfect case of Big Bad Corp, but where do you draw the line? What about supermarket own-brands? Or those smaller vegan companies who get bought out by the multinationals? It’s not so clear cut.
Should the Vegan Society have refused to endorse these Nestle products? Quite possibly yes, but on what grounds? By all means don’t buy their products, I won’t be doing so. To really try to see the amount of work necessary to investigate how ethical a company is, please turn to Ethical Consumer.
But it is a question worth asking: should the Vegan Society be held up as an organisation that considers the ethics of a company, not purely the product itself? How many Vegan Society Approved products would disappear from the supermarket shelf? And would that be a good thing?
If you’re currently experimenting with a change in your diet and seeing what Veganuary is all about, well done, you’re half way through. If not…it’s never too late (even in February). As well as health and environmental benefits, the animals appreciate it too.
If you do eat meat and wonder how you could possibly consider going without it, at least give some consideration to where it comes from. You don’t have to kill your own, but someone, somewhere does, and that’s worth thinking about.
One farmer in Ontario reflected on his own chicken-killing experience recently.
Global beef production and its effects on our planet – a compelling story map has the details.
This is worth a look at, showing a compelling analysis of global beef production and its effect on our planet. The Cost of Beef “story map” comes from an environmental perspective and is reputable, put together by esri, University of Minnesota and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. Combining analysis, maps and photos, it presents a compelling argument that we cannot maintain the status quo.
For example, it shows the parts of the world where farmland is used to feed animals and for biofuels. More than one third of the calories produced from crops is not for human consumption and in the US less than half of all crops produced ends up as food for people.
In Lima I took to the local bus service to see if I could reach the CIAP office (the organisation I became familiar with in Puno), obscurely located in the dusty streets of the suburb San Martin des Porres. I thought the bus ride (colectivo) would be the tricky part but when I did eventually make it I was confounded by the streets and their obscure street numbering. I don’t think the neighbourhood was used to a lost-looking gringo wandering up and down the main road, but somehow I eventually found what I was looking for.
I was warmly welcomed at CIAP; yet again I was dropping in on someone unannounced.
CIAP offered an interesting insight into all the various complexities of Fair Trade and its benefits and drawbacks. CIAP includes artisans and related organisations so is different from a straight-up coffee or cacao co-operative.
Several staff are located here who look after a variety of activities all under the CIAP umbrella. Carmen and Roxanne worked for Pachamama, a tourist operator.
Moner coordinates exports of artisan products, mostly to the USA and Europe (Intercrafts). Yesenia worked as an administrator and had only started a few months ago. She was responsible for the credit ‘part’ of CIAP, which, with three offices (Lima, Juliaca and Puno) allowed artisans to borrow money to support their businesses.
The CIAP office is the hub of all the initiatives geared towards helping poor and marginalised communities. It is particularly focused on women (72% of members are female). Since 2011 they have had fair trade certification with WFTO (World Fair Trade Organisation), nearly 20 years after its founding in 1992.
CIAP is set up differently to the other fair trade organisations I had visited, primarily because it is not a co-operative (in the way a coffee or banana co-op might be). It developed from trying to assist individual artisans and consider itself as a ‘family’ rather than a co-operative. Each artisan remains an individual member and CIAP offers support and assistance in different ways. It still has a small membership, maybe 300 or so and is formed by small associations (perhaps 15-20 people on average). Individual members are given contracts of two or three years and paid a minimum price based on hours worked. Support comes from providing resources and education (for example, what is considered the latest fashion; internet skills) to credit facilities to providing a more direct link and space to sell their products.
But it has been a difficult 20 years. It is still a struggle to ensure artisans are able to have a minimum living wage; their products are typically more expensive than others; retail locations are expensive to maintain. Indeed, two locations in Lima had closed in recent years. The shop in Puno was helped by the travel agent income located next door. However, without the help of CIAP, these artisans would be in a more vulnerable situation.
Decorating the CIAP office were various contributions from artisan members
Showcasing the crafts of CIAP members
CIAP is many-faceted, but it was a sobering way to end my fair trade visits. From talking to Jorge and his staff here it was pretty clear that even with fair trade, the artisans they help still struggle in their daily lives. The image of happy producers, gainfully employed, providing for their families – the kind you often see on brochures and posters in shops in our countries – does not reflect the reality that life is often still a struggle for them. However, without fair trade support, it would be worse.
What future lay ahead? It was difficult to say. With a typical customer such as Ten Thousand Villages (in Canada) reducing the number of their stores in recent years (in Vancouver and Ottawa for example), the producers were still at the mercy of the fair trade ‘market’.
Fair trade definitely helps, says Jorge, but poverty is still endemic in these regions. Life for many of them was simply less worse than without CIAP support. Many times he had asked himself, “how do we really help?”.
Tucked away in an old courtyard, the centuries-old casa del corregidor (the mayor’s house) now serves as a little courtyard housing some of Puno’s socially-minded businesses.
A couple of travel agents and a fantastic cafe can be reached via the peaceful courtyard.
But tucked to the right of the main entrance was the surprising find, k’antu. It was, as the sign proudly displays, a fair trade shop.
K’antu is a retail part of the organisation CIAP (Central Interregional de Artisanos) that for more than 20 years has tried to assist the more vulnerable people (women in particular) in various parts of Peru, particularly around Puno and Lima, the capital. Individual members of CIAP are organised into associations that typically comprise around 15-20 members. Nearly three-quarters of CIAP members are female. In the Puno region there are about eight different associations.
William Flores is the manager at k’antu and when he wasn’t chatting to one of his local artisan members, he gave me an insight into k’antu’s origins.
Puno is a relatively poor region. The idea of the k’antu shop was to try to take advantage of the tourism in the area and create a space to sell the products made by local artisans.
It’s membership of the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) ensures that all the producers are paid a fair price for the products they create.
Using local materials, the biggest sellers here are clothing (made from alpaca and llama wool), jewellery and handicrafts. Each product carries a WFTO label, the name of the artisan who made it and the association name they belong to. In our virtually-connected world it felt more appropriate that I was able to connect to a real person by buying an item from k’antu and supporting fairly the livelihoods of people who’ve lived here for generations.
And what better way to finish up a hard afternoon’s shopping than with a cup of local fair trade coffee sat outside in the sunshine.
While in Puno I took the chance to do some sightseeing for a day. And the main attraction is on the lake itself, Lake Titicaca.
It is one of the most famous local attractions for tourists – a visit to the see the Uru people (los uros) who inhabit a multitude of floating islands just a few kilometres by boat from Puno. It is certainly another world. The indigenous people here pre-date the Incas, living on islands of reeds they made themselves. Even today they still make their homes and their boats from the reeds.
Tourism helps to keep these communities going, but much of it felt staged. From the welcoming sing-a-long to the information talk and the hard-sell of the local crafts I hoped the communities maintained their sense of identity, and not just a tourist facsimile. When the tourists aren’t around, the people here still have to maintain their way of life.
An inhabitant of the islands greets arriving tourists
Reeds are used in construction; nature eventually takes over and buildings can start to sink back into the water
A typical part of the Uros community
A striking locally-made boat. Tourists are taken around many of the different islands
Away from the tourists life goes on as usual
Locals build their own boats
The Uros women, always colourfully dressed, greet tourists with a little sing-song
The slightly larger islands can support a few families
Local men row the reed boats for the tourists
Sometimes assistance is required to navigate gaps in the floor
A typical Uros dwelling – predominantly reeds and a simple roof
Life here still adheres to its old traditions, despite encroaching modernity
The locals try to make a living by selling handmade items to tourists
Another typical Uros dwelling
As well as a visit to Los Uros, Puno has a few other attractions, including a ship built in the 19th century (MN Yavari) that took six years to be hauled up over the Andes from the coast and then reassembled on the lake. As well as checking its seaworthiness I climbed up the local hill overlooking Puno (Condor hill) and later relaxed in a fine cafe with a cup of local fair trade coffee.
Getting through Peru in a short time-frame required some long, gruelling bus rides. Travelling south from Trujillo, I made a quick stopover in Lima before heading south-east where my destination was Lake Titicaca and the Peruvian altiplano, where I wanted to sample something a little different. A brief visit to the shores of Lake Titicaca, more than 3,000 m above sea level, was a place I’d long been intrigued by. It felt like a good place to round things off. With its claim of housing a ship that took 6+ years to make the journey there from sea level made it unconventional to say the least. Not much coffee grows at this altitude but there was an office of a coffee co-operative and also the area was renowned for its artisan and local crafts. Plus a little cool-down from the desert heat was welcome.
Lake Titicaca straddles the border of Peru and Bolivia. Indigenous communities are prevalent throughout the region on both sides of the border. This includes communities who live on Lake Titicaca itself, on floating beds of reeds. The Uros people pre-date Inca civilization. The floating islands are continuously managed by adding more reeds as ones underneath rot away naturally, so the size of each one can change easily. They are a popular tourist draw with regular boat trips from Puno.
The fair trade coffee co-op (CECOVASA) was located in the neighbouring town, Juliaca. Not a logical location for such a co-operative, but my curiosity was piqued enough to try to find out the reason why it was located so high up here on the altiplano. I knew that CECOVASA wouldn’t have any coffee farmers nearby, but I took the 30-minute bus ride from Puno, passing isolated houses and quinoa plots as we trundled across the windswept plain.
Set back from the main road and just outside the town centre, CECOVASA looked drab and dispiriting from the outside. Even a mural on the wall of the various fair trade co-op members within CECOVASA did little to brighten things up, though at least I knew I was in the right place.
As usual I had turned up unannounced and so had no idea what I’d actually get to see, but Jaime, the manager, was on hand to show me around. At least for a little while…I think he soon got bored of that and later left me to my own devices.
The CECOVASA story was somewhat familiar. As with many other coffee co-ops I’d visited, a historic price collapse of coffee (around 2001-02, which had devastated coffee farmers worldwide and led many to simply abandon their farms) subsequently led to an interest and setting up as a fair trade co-op. The co-op collective had started in 1970 with five separate smaller co-ops. Since 2003 it was fair trade and had grown to eight co-ops (10 now) comprising more than 5,000 producers. The Juliaca part of their story was more recent, and looked to be ongoing, given the state of the facility I was visiting.
Inside the facility. To be developed?
Catching up on the ‘roof’
Bags awaiting a fill of local coffee
It wins awards, you know
Bags in the warehouse ready to go
The tasting room
Why not improvise with a football pitch?
Fair trade coffee…
Each sack labelled
One of the staff, working hard…
Not much attention paid to the interior
A bright mural on the outside
Each co-op has its symbol on the exterior wall
It’s a welcoming but misleading sight
More artistry on the exterior wall
This office and warehouse, opened in 2010, was an attempt to get a little closer to the farmers. Although we were more than 3,000 metres up on the plain, we were a lot closer to the producers than before, when these facilities were in Lima. But even today the farmers would pick, wash and bag their coffee at their farms before bringing to Juliaca. Most of the coffee is exported but some high quality coffee is roasted and packaged here for the domestic market. It is this coffee (Tunki) that wins awards – an unusual scenario in fair trade coffee when most of the higher quality is exported abroad.
I was shown around by Jaime, the general manager. But I was often distracted by his big, bushy hair and capped, rabbit-like front teeth. His dishevelled appearance was a reflection of the co-op itself – a mish-mash of progress and neglect. It was hard to tell if construction had stopped midway through or if it was just slow progress. Despite the new cupping lab and warehouse, many other areas were showing signs of wear and tear, paint flaking off the concrete facades. Perhaps it came down to costs; Jaime was worried about new fair trade certifications. He felt they were needed but the costs added up.
I left with mixed feelings. Many of my fair trade visits left me wondering just much good fair trade was doing. CECOVASA encompassed everything for me, both the positive and negative. I hoped they would succeed but it was difficult to say. I took a bus back to Puno and went to a local cafe to try some award-winning Tunki coffee for myself, hoping I might find an answer.