In my last blog, I encouraged supporting those businesses that engage in fair trade practices and so on.
But again, it’s complicated.
Recently, the Viêt Nam News ran an article that illustrates the conundrum of meeting the certification standards of Fairtrade International. As you may imagine, this global organization has extensive standards—for small-scale producers, hired labor, contract production, traders.
These comprehensive guidelines aim to secure “sustainable livelihoods” for producers, enabling them to exert control over their own future. This is all really good stuff.
But here’s the problem, at least for the current situation in Viet Nam.
According to the article, Viet Nam is “one of the top five tea producers in the world. . . . [and their] products . . . [account for] 60 per cent of the black tea market and 40 per cent of the green tea market.”
But their tea exports, both in volume and value, have been dropping this year.
Hoang Vinh Long of the Viet Nam Tea Association explains that the tea producers:
- haven’t built a “brand”
- export the tea in large bags rather than as finished products geared toward individual consumers
- are small, with little capital
- produce tea of varying quality
- have limited knowledge about fair trade standards—at a time when fair trade certification is highly valued by customers
For these small tea producers to meet fair trade standards, they would need to implement different production methods and improve product quality—which takes money.
Money they don’t have.
So if these small tea producers could be fair trade certified, presumably their products would command higher prices, with greater export volumes, and their tea gardens would be more sustainable, affording them a better way of life.
But to do this, they need to be better educated about tea production and marketing techniques as well as improve their production methods. Which requires capital.
So yes, fair trade certification is in the best interests of the tea producers and traders in Viet Nam, but it is not so easily obtained. Awareness and education, coupled with interest in fair trade products, are a start.
Maybe our purchasing decisions can help this process along.
Increasing the demand for tea that has been grown in an environmentally sustainable way—from producers that are being treated, and that are able to act, in a socially responsible way—may produce a positive ripple effect.
And anything that helps our earth—and more importantly, our global neighbors—is a worthy goal.
(If you need a place to start, check out TeaHaus’ Vietnam Yen Bai OP.)