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?
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.
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.
The first avocado farmer I met made an impression on me of the kind I didn’t expect: his perhaps slightly overweight resemblance to the actor Vince Vaughn. He sported a slouched sombrero, wide-necked shirt and jeans and drove a decked-out, twin-cab Ford pickup truck. I thought I might be in Texas, not northern Peru.
If I had been in Texas, it probably would have been guacamole with everything. In the US avocado really means guacamole. Promoting avocados during this year’s Super Bowl was big business when consumption is peaks. “Avocados from Mexico”, the company behind the Super Bowl advert, proclaim that guacamole is the #1 use of avocados. Nachos anyone..? But let’s look a little beyond this – avocados aren’t only grown in Mexico. I was in dry, dusty Trujillo in northern Peru to see what was happening in the smaller world of fair trade, organic avocados.
CEDEPAS is the local cooperative that until recently produced only conventional avocados. And different varieties too. Most of the exports to North America and Europe are Haas, but there are plenty of others. Haas tends to get the highest price for export, but producers here also have varieties such as Fuerte and Nava, sold locally. Luckily, no such thing as the avozilla.
Fairtrasa started working with the coop three years prior to my visit, at about the same time as an outside NGO. Fairtrasa works with small-scale, marginalised farmers and manages their supply chain, from farmer to the end customer. They helped CEDEPAS transition to organic and fair trade. Organic and fair trade avocados receive higher prices for the farmers despite having to put up with a couple of tougher transitional years.
The advantages of organic and fair trade certification is clear for the farm owner with higher revenue from the better prices. But it was still too early to know the full extent of the benefits for the hired workers. This being their first full year of fairtrade/organic supply, the value of things like the fair trade social premium weren’t fully known. Theresa, a mother of two young daughters, was one of seven workers at the farm we visited. She works on several local farms but the work can be sporadic, not always available. She works on fair trade certified farms but knew nothing about what fair trade was. The seven workers I saw typically bring in 80-100 boxes per day. For this they’re paid 30 soles each (approx. CAN$13).
The transition to fair trade and organic requires more work (including paperwork) and more investment. For example, each tree requires a lot of water. Gallons of water are used to create a ‘moat’ around each plant which is left for 10-15 days. The cycle is then repeated. The new system the farm invested in is more efficient, using a release mechanism underneath the soil to release water each day. But some hard work can’t be changed – weeding is constantly required.
One of my Fairtrasa companions for the day, Sophie, from France, clearly caught the attention of “Vince”, who tried to impress her on our drive home in his pickup truck. He barely noticed that I was there with them. I heard later from Sophie, who hadn’t been enamoured with Vince’s greasy eye-mongering that his main concern for his avocado farm was to make more money. If fair trade allows him to do that, he’ll adopt it. He wasn’t an advocate for fair trade and Sophie indicated that it would be difficult to get him to understand fair trade/organic production and why it exists as it does.
The larger farms like Vince’s rely on hired labour at harvest. But even at the coop/producer Association level there is no formal process yet in place that would give guarantees to the local workers. The farm owner likes to rehire the same workers, but at best it seems to be only based on a verbal agreement to do so.
Fairtrasa’s role has been to share their expertise in order to help bring producers like Vince into the fair trade and organic export market and to help them take advantage of it. It does mean they work with the larger producers so that they can get sufficient volume to ship abroad. Fairtrasa also tries to get large groups of smaller producers together.
The model for fair trade avocados is still developing. In this case, Vince was clearly doing ok for himself, but it his workers had more of a struggle. Would fair trade change any of that for them?
Later we returned to the Fairtrasa office in Trujillo. It was a small, open office; very ‘no frills’. Plenty of thick binders sat on shelves. Computer equipment straggled across simple veneer desks. One lonely table; a whiteboard; a wall calendar. Brown veneer panelling served for wallpaper. It felt very 1970s. But the office had a busy atmosphere, as any typical office would, working on spreadsheets, doing accounts. Despite an imminent audit, the Fairtrasa staff within certainly brought the place to life.
I’d spent the day with Sophie and Jorge (our driver) and now met the rest: Juan, Mario, Juan Carlos, Ivan, Johana and Luis (Luchito). Luis and Mario had phones stuck to their ears, and the others needed to crack on. I knew I would be back the following day so I left them to their work, descended the concrete stairs and headed out into the warm Trujillo afternoon.
Tired workers rest up after a typical day harvesting avocados
The coop also run a horticulture enterprise. The desert climate means creative growing methods are used
Layers of greens bake in the hot sun
The sign behind the workers indicates what lies beyond – land and owner details, avocado variety (Haas), number of trees planted (700) and when (2007)
“Vince”, the farm owner, doing his best impression at non-acting
boxes of freshly picked avocados wait to be loaded
Vince weighs and counts the boxes as they’re loaded into the van
Loading ‘er up
Theresa unloads her picking bag into a box
One of the workers sets the box for weighing
The farm lies within this tight band of land that lies between the Pacific and the Andes
In the middle of the farm, a full box sits in the sun
Strange but delicious fruit to be had at lunch
Lunch at the cafe: the owner knows how to carve up a treat
As we drove up to the farm, the local wildlife takes an interest in our wing mirror…
One of the workers showing the different varieties of avocado grown here
Fairtrasa provide the boxes for the coop
A worker takes a quick rest
Sophie from Fairtrasa tries her hand at cutting an avocado from the tree
A worker proudly shows one of hundreds of avocados he picked that day
This low-lying landscape is generally hot and dry, but spectacular views can be had
The bananeros, banana farmers, in the Piura region of northern Peru have had another kick in the teeth. Often hit by misfortune, the 2012 flooding of their plantations was unprecedented. Their livelihoods were at risk which led one of their buyers, Discovery Organics in Vancouver, to initiate a fundraising campaign for them.
Now they have a different problem – disease. It’s estimated that the region’s producers will face a 45% reduction in their exports this year.
The news in timely. Throughout this year, 2014, the Fairtrade Foundation (UK fairtrade advocacy) have campaigned long and hard to push major supermarkets to supply 100% fairtrade bananas. They personalised this campaign – “Stick With Foncho”. Their efforts are to push major UK supermarkets to switch to 100% fairtrade bananas. Now at year’s end, the pressure is on Asda (owned by Walmart) and Tesco to make the switch.
This is important. Banana farmers (bananeros) have it difficult at the best of times. Hired workers on conventional plantations (such as those owned by Dole and Chiquita) have it worse.
It’s easy to ignore the people behind what we eat. Plenty of people ‘eat local’ but how can you do that with bananas? But I found for myself when I visited these farmers that they have it worse than most. Fairtrade can give these producers a little lifeline. It may be modest, but it helps.
Bananas bear the brunt of cheap agriculture and supermarket price wars. And at this time of year as we’re encouraged to think of others, support fairtrade if you can. Let your local supermarket know too.
Santiago carefully picks his way through the scattered cacao beans laid out on the table, making selections with a trained eye and placing them in a customised folding tray in front of him. The tray has placeholders for the beans and he fills it row by row. But this is not a tray for display. After it is filled, he folds the tray over, sealing the beans in place. The tray is designed to check the quality of the cacao beans, and it comes with its own built-in guillotine blade. A quick swipe downwards from Santiago and the beans have been sliced in half. He opens the tray to expose the newly-decapitated beans and examines their insides.
Checking the bean quality is an intricate process and this is just one part. The final check is a taste test, but to get to that part requires another few steps. Santiago claims to look after ‘tourism’-related activities but he’s clearly steeped in cacao knowledge. Dressed in a CEPICAFE t-shirt and light waistcoat, he walks me through the process. From the same batch of beans we took some of the ones that had survived the guillotine and placed them in a mini roaster, separate from the ones that roast the coffee. After roasting the shells need to come off and the beans ground up. Grinding is non-technical – hand power is used. Out of that come the cacao nibs. However, the next stage uses white cylindrical tubs with numerous wires and plastic protruding skywards. Looking more like they should be in a hospital, these tubs turn the nibs into cacao liquor. Then it’s poured into small tasting trays and placed in the fridge until Santiago is ready to taste test.
The day before visiting CEPICAFE, the co-op that Santiago works for, I arrived in Piura, northern Peru, on an overnight bus from southern Ecuador. After several weeks in the cooler mountains I was now in the hot, parched flatlands of Piura.
Piura is the main town of the Piura region and was my base for a few days, offering an opportunity to visit a couple of different fair trade co-ops. In common with Ecuador and Colombia, my first sense of Peru was a mix of the relatively affluent and modern (gated houses, a private leisure club, cafes and hotels) together with the more chaotic hustle that characterised the markets, dusty streets and unfinished or rundown buildings of poorer areas. There is a very pleasant central square, an upmarket hotel facing onto it, and it even had a vegetarian restaurant.
It was hard to believe that Piura, a dusty, hot low-lying town, could be home to a coffee co-operative. But because it is the largest town in the region, it works well as a central base for coffee and cacao producers who live in the interior. This particular co-operative, CEPICAFE (coffee producers of central Piura) is large and has a diverse range of products – coffee, cacao, panela (sugar) and fruit juices and jams.
The co-op office is located just outside of the town centre and I arrived unannounced on a hot, sunny morning. Again, I wasn’t sure what might happen – and neither were they – but after an uncertain few minutes I was given the ok for a tour.
This co-op is particularly unique, given its office (and warehouse) location, size and its products. Most producers live quite a distance away up in the high hills but this location in Piura is a step forward. They have a modern operation here and my first glimpse of it was with a young lad called Ivan, who showed all the equipment they use to make batches of fruit pulp for jams and juice. Alas it was out of season so I didn’t get to see the operation running.
The main emphasis of the co-op is in cacao and coffee. It wasn’t coffee harvest season either, so when I first saw the massive warehouse it looked noticeably empty. Only four years old, it was the largest facility I’d seen on my trip; at harvest time they process a huge amount of coffee.
But when it’s not coffee season there is the cacao. The hub of the action, and the fun, is in the quality lab. The lab is at the upstairs in the warehouse and is used for coffee and cacao tasting; today it was cacao.
Very high quality cacao is produced within the co-op. According to Santiago Paz Lopez, the co-op Manager, “we have some of the best cacao in the world”. calls it the gold of Piura, such is its quality and value. One of their varieties of cacao won 1st in a national competition. Earlier in the day that I was there one of CEPICAFE’s US clients visited – a well-known fair trade chocolate producer who have exacting quality requirements.
The warehouse was on the other side of town, so I accompanied Martin there on a tuk-tuk ride from the office. He explained to me that the co-op handles a range of different standards of coffee. Most carry an organic standard as well as one or more fair trade certifications (e.g. FLO, CLAC). Martin had been with the co-op for 12 years and as we wandered around the warehouse he was happy to talk to me for a while about the co-op. However, because my visit was outside of coffee harvest season, the warehouse had an air of slumber about it, except for when we arrived at the quality lab, which was crowded and alive with activity.
Back in the lab, I watched intently as Santiago and his team put the cacao through its paces. As well as conducting the ‘guillotine’ test the cacao needs to be given clearly it’s most important test – tasting. Who could refuse?
Santiago was ready to give the liquor a try. The chilled liquor was softened (in the microwave) and after a few seconds he handed me a little tasting spoon and I dived into the softened cacao. We tasted two varities and I was surprised how easy it was to notice the difference. Despite that, I had to make sure and I was keen to repeat the process…several times.
-created in 1995, current Piura office opened in 2001
-approx 6,700 producers, all smallholders (1-2 hectares or less)
-four different cacao varieties, including one called cacao (gran) blanco and chulucanas, both highly valued
-producers live in the Amazonas, Tumbes, Cajamarca and Piura regions
-100% fair trade, 95% organic
-well-known clients include Equal Exchange, Theo chocolate, GEPA and Ethiquable