There’s a lot of talk about doing the right thing in the coffee industry and I frequently find myself in some lively debates around this issue. But what does ethical/fair/decent (delete as appropriate) really mean? How do we ensure that the people who matter in producing coffee, the farmers and workers, benefit as much as everyone else?

When commodity markets crash, smallholder farmers suffer the consequences by receiving low prices for their coffee. This is why many consumers in the UK tend to be very supportive of Fairtrade certification which gives some protection to vulnerable groups of farmers and ensures they receive a minimum price irrespective of how low the markets may fall.

But does the Fairtrade model accomplish all it sets out to achieve?

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Union is partnered with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, to conserve the Yayu Coffee Forest in Ethiopia, and invest in the region’s coffee cooperatives. Our Union Direct Trade initiative is enhancing smallholder livelihoods, preserving a unique wild coffee biosphere, and improving the farms’ coffee quality. We’re excited to build sustainable relationships which motivate farmers to grow excellent coffee, and you get to enjoy a delicious, responsibly sourced cup full of exotic coffee flavours.

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As part of my role in bringing Union Direct Trade to life, I do a lot of travelling. Last August it was Chirinos in Peru, this is my adventure…

Day one

After a long trip with two stop-overs in Bogota and Lima, we arrive around midnight at the hotel. Things get interesting when the guy at the reception tells us there is only one room available. Though Steven and I get along very well, we prefer separate rooms.

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Over the past year, since joining Union, I’ve spent a lot of time with Steven and Jeremy (our founders) talking about the way we source and how we work in partnership with farmers. I’ve also found insights from Pascale (our sustainable sourcing champion who is based in Panama and travels to meet our producer partners on a constant basis, monitoring and helping to increase quality of life and quality of coffee production) invaluable. However nothing really prepared me for the experience of meeting the producers and farmers in their own homes.

Rwanda is a small country at the heart of Africa, with a population of 11 million people. Sitting directly on the equator, the whole country is beautiful; lush, green forests and lakes – the most beautiful country I have been to! It’s known as ‘the country of a thousand hills’, which seemed to be true, but even more so I was struck by the warm welcome and smiles we received.

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