Women are driving coffee production forward around the world. We’re proud of the many women whose work makes this a reality at Union. This International Women’s Day I wanted to tell the stories of the women of Union…

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Did you know that women play an important role in coffee production? They do most of the work and are therefore directly responsible for the quality of the coffee. Their work often goes unrecognized and unpaid. On international women’s day we want to share with you how Union adresses gender equality.

When coffee was first introduced into England in the late 1600s, it was largely drunk by men and only men. In coffeehouses rather than at home. Doctors welcomed this as a substitute for drinking alcohol in taverns, but women were not so happy. In 1674 an unknown author put out “The Women’s Petition Against Coffee”.

English coffee houses in the 17th and 18th century were also called penny houses, referring to the entry fee of a penny. Coffee houses were public, social places where people would meet for conversation and commerce while drinking coffee.

Not all historians agree on whether women were or were not allowed to enter coffeehouses. Yet, conversation certainly revolved around male centered subjects such as politics, business and cultural criticism. These topics were not supposed to concern women. A coffee house was no place for a lady who wished to remain respectable!

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The answer is more complex than ‘because some coffee taste better than others’ or ‘some coffees are very rare and unique and therefore the supply and demand relationship will create a higher prices’.

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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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