Most of us have heard of Fair Trade USA with its recognizable black and white label (seen at left). The premise of Fair Trade is something it's easy to get behind: as an organized movement, it helps people in developing countries ensure higher prices and therefore better working conditions for their exports.
Naturally, tea is on the list of exports sometimes given fair trade certification — you'll see that Fair Trade logo on boxes of two leaves and a bud Organic African Sunset, our rooibus (or "red tea") grown in South Africa. But it's an interesting story how we ended up with this particular rooibus and how it got fair trade certification.
The first thing you should know is that for many small farmers in developing countries around the world, the money needed to achieve Fair Trade certification isn't necessarily simple to come by. Having a few thousand dollars to pay for the certification can be the equivalent of a total annual income in many of these places, says two leaves and a bud CEO and founder Richard Rosenfeld. So what is a small farmer to do when they'd still like to become Fair Trade certified?
Several years ago, Richard got involved with a group of business owners mostly involved in the trades of coffee, tea and spices. All of them had the same goal of finding a way to help growers who are, in fact, too small to easily achieve Fair Trade certification. "None of us wanted to disrespect Fair Trade, and we're all members [of Fair Trade], but we felt they had some significant shortcomings," Richard says. "Fair Trade by the nature of its success marginalizes small farmers. It's incredibly ironic."
Consider, for a moment, that when the biggest coffee or tea companies in the world want to purchase products from Fair Trade-certified growers, they cannot buy just five pounds of coffee or tea at a time — they must seek out the largest Fair Trade growers possible. What's a struggling small farmer to do, even with the best intentions to grow a sustainable, organic product? How do they get the recognition, let alone the paycheck, they deserve?
What these business owners and growers Richard met with decided to do was form the Trust Organic Small Farmers Alliance — which would help unite otherwise marginalized producers with like-minded trading partners. In essence, it puts people who grow superior organic products on tiny farms in touch with companies like two leaves and a bud — companies that are willing to pay more for a truly "fair trade" transaction.
In the case of our rooibus, or Organic African Sunset, as its named here at two leaves, Richard says he's happy to pay extra for rooibus from the Wupperthal Cooperative — the small group of organic farmers in South Africa that come together to grow this "red tea." "I absolutely think it has improved their quality of life," he says. "If we can transfer some of the wealth from the first world to them, I think that's great."
What do you think — if you have a choice between two products and one has the Fair Trade Certification logo, would you choose that product? What if it cost slightly more?