Fairtrade all the way, from Colombian co-op to café

By jay

Wellington-based Peoples Coffee is a socially conscious roastery and one of only two organisations in NZ to be certified under the World Fair Trade Organisation. It prides itself on its transparency and accountability.

The café and roastery was started more than ten years ago, after noticing a growing consciousness in consumers, looking for a way to create real and meaningful trade alliances. Peoples Coffee purchases only 100 per cent fair trade, 100 per cent organic coffee, and is currently working towards attaining its BioGro certification.

Supply chain transparency is also part of the reason why Peoples opted for organics, says General Manager Liv Doogue. “For us the main reason is for the health of the farmers, who pick coffee cherries all day and can be exposed to very toxic chemicals. People often think of organic in terms of the end product, something that the consumer chooses for their own health reasons, but there’s more to consider. And also for us, it emphasises that sustainable environmental practices are key to our business.”

Peoples is one of only two organisations in New Zealand to be certified under the World Fair Trade Organisation. This strict certification for businesses goes beyond a Fairtrade logo on a bag of coffee. It emphasises ten fair trade principles within the work place including looking at organisational gender disparity, equal employment opportunities, the treatment of staff and the business’ environmental practices (Peoples’ take away coffee cups are compostable and no plastic packaging is used in store). “It’s so much more than how much we pay for our product,” states Liv.

But that’s not where the buck stops. Each year, Peoples’ staff travel with Trade Aid to visit the small growers and cooperatives that supply their product – in fact, coffee-roaster Rene has recently returned from a trip to Ethiopia. During these trips, Peoples Coffee will roast the beans as part of a strict quality assurance taste-test. But the company also offers opportunities for farmers to learn how to upskill on roasting so they can roast their own beans to a higher standard.

Why do they literally choose to go the extra mile? “It’s a few things,” says Liv. “It’s about meeting the farmers, meeting the cooperative manager and their coffee quality advisors. It’s about being able to talk to them directly about payment and the issues they are facing. It’s about being authentic and giving the respect to the people who are making it all happen. Without them none of this could happen. It’s also about quality – seeing their roasting and coffee-making practices and if and when we can step in and help.”

As part of the fair trade premium that growers are paid, communities can build or purchase the infrastructure or resources they need. For example, a recently-visited co-op in Nicaragua has used some of the money from the fair trade premium to set up a food bank, meaning that farmers can have a secure food supply all year round. This ensures they are able to survive even if coffee prices plunge or the devastating leaf rust virus affects their crop.

By creating transparency and accountability within the supply chain, Peoples Coffee aims to connect the coffee consumer with the co-op. You’ll find stories about the growers on its website, its blog and through the rotating photos, displayed in store, of farmers it visits on its trip-to-origin travels.

The roastery also creates seasonal blends that are inspired by growers. For example, last year it released the Café con Manos de Mujer (coffee with the hands of women) blend which supports a women’s collective within its Guatemalan cooperative. This aims to address gender disparities in Guatemala, particularly with rural women, of whom 31 per cent are illiterate.

In New Zealand, the café is also promoting a pay it forward system, through its ‘suspended coffees’. Customers buy a coffee and a suspended coffee – an extra coffee for a fellow espressoholic who forgets their wallet, or someone who can’t afford the luxury of a latte. Liv says there are two or three suspended coffees every day. “It’s become part of the internal culture in our cafe,” she says proudly.

They’ll also be taking their café set-up to Arohata prison to run barista training courses for women inmates – offering upskilling in areas other than the ‘traditional women’s work’ such as cooking and cleaning that women are currently trained in. “We set them up with machinery and supply the coffee and milk, and have two baristas running the training sessions. We did it 2013 and we had a hugely positive response from the trainees and so we’ve asked them if we can do it again this April.”

The business is currently expanding into Auckland, where it hopes to find cafés and business stockists for its products.

Why are you a member of SBN?
“It just seems like a no-brainer. SBN is doing some awesome stuff and it’s great to see solidarity among business who value ethical and ethical accountability as part of their success model. It’s a network we are proud to be part of, with so many people doing great things. And we like being involved in some of those conversations around the food insecurity and waste.”