Next week, celebrities across Germany will be publicly sipping fair traded coffee during Fair Trade Week. The campaign aims to promote fairer world trade and more conscious consumer behavior.
This coffee farmer will receive a fair price for her beans
Back in the 1970s and 1980s, alternative-minded Germans bought Nicaraguan coffee out of conviction and solidarity. It was considered politically correct and hip to choose fair- trade products. But taste was another matter. The bitter beans from Latin America left much to be desired.
A lot has changed since then, both in taste and in the acceptance of fair trade products.
“Today, the coffee tastes good,” said Barbara Schimmelpfennig, press spokeswoman for gepa, Europe’s largest fair trade company based in Wuppertal. “After all, people are not going to buy a product just out of pity,” she told DW-WORLD.
Fair trade means that producers get a price for their goods, which lies above that paid on the world market. Producers are given guaranteed long-term trade relations, and can even have their harvests pre-financed. The goods, for example coffee, are delivered to importers, in this case coffee roasters, who deal with the marketing. Producers and importers are strictly controlled and licensed.
Germany’s Faire Woche or Fair Trade Week, wants to draw more consumers into the world of fair traded products. Beginning September 20, supermarkets, world shops, private and public organizations across the country will be hosting nearly 1,000 events.
Celebrities will be eating fair-traded products at breakfasts in public places. World shops and company canteens are planning special promotions and a fair trade commercial will air in 300 movie theaters.
Fairness in your shopping basket
“Fair trade gives everyone the opportunity to get involved in battling poverty and ensuring a fair structure in global trade,” said Federal Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, who is the patron for the Faire Woche. “With this week, we want to inform the public of the social background and principles of fair trade.”
Informing consumers is a top priority for the organizers, too. "We don’t have the financial means to do widespread television advertising, for example,” said gepa’s Schimmelpfennig.
The "Faire Woche" or Fair Trade Week aims to inform more consumers about the benefits of this sector.
“There are still not enough consumers who know about fair products," she said. "That is why a campaign like the Fair Trade Week is so important for us.”
Wieczorek-Zeul agreed. “A lot of people in Germany would like to buy fair products if they knew more about them and they were offered more widely,” she said.
For almost 30 years, products from fair trade have been available in over 800 shops in Germany. The spectrum ranges from foods, such as coffee, tea, bananas and honey, to soccer balls, handicrafts and musical instruments.
A small, but significant sector
Large supermarket chains have also started offering fair-trade products. Stores belonging to the Rewe group were the first to do so nearly a decade ago. Press spokeswoman Astrid Ohletz said the merchandise plays a significant role for Rewe, one of the leading groups in the European grocery trade.
“We want to give our customers the opportunity to support these projects, despite the products’ higher prices,” Ohletz said. “Of course, they are not fast-moving items. But removing them from our range for this reason is not at all under consideration.”
Figures from the consumer organization Verbraucher Initiative show that the market share of products from fair trade does not exceed one percent in any segment of the respective market.
Coffee producers especially benefit from fair trade.
Even the top seller fair coffee only reaches a market share of 0.7 percent in Germany.
Still, gepa has seen strong growth in supermarket sales. In the financial year ending March 31, 2004, gepa product turnover via supermarkets was up 16 percent to €6 million ($7.3 million).
“This is a hard-fought sector,” said Schimmelpfennig. “So this increase is a real accomplishment.”
An imbalanced world economy
“Fair trade points out how imbalanced and in need of reform the global economic relations still are,” said Wieczorek-Zeul. “Developing countries need a fair chance to evolve out of their own potential -- and in order to do this, they need wide access to our markets.”
According to Schimmelpfennig, this political endorsement is indicative of fair trade’s development. “Years ago, we didn’t have this support,” she said. “Now, what began as something ethical has gained an economic and political level.”
German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, center, enjoys a "fair" breakfast in Berlin.
Fair Trade Week doesn’t just appeal to our conscience, though, but also to our taste buds, said Wieczorek-Zeul. “Fair products are produced with great care and taste delicious,” she said at a "fair" breakfast she hosted in Berlin this week -- and poured herself another cup of tasty Nicaraguan coffee.