Interview with Pact Coffee
Pact coffee are a small company in London who really do care about coffee, but it’s not just the product that is important it is everything else involved, where the farmers are taken care of too. Two issues we face with the food and drink sector is changes in agriculture and forced labour. With the worlds population growing and our planet warming up more crops will be in demand with less space to grow them, resulting in an increase of food prices combined with the corruption of human rights that is forced labour. I could literally go on and on, but there is a glimmer hope with small companies such as Pact who are taking steps in the right direction.
By cutting out the middleman and meeting the coffee farmers themselves, Pact can be in the know about the ins and outs of each farm, as well as offering them better than Fairtrade prices. I spoke to Head of PR Ed Grattan and Head of Coffee Will Corby to find out a little more on how Pact works.
Forced labour on coffee farms has been an issue in the past concerning other coffee companies, what are you thoughts on this?
The partition we have around our supply is that we’re pretty small, in the coffee world the amount of coffee we buy is pretty tiny, coffee is like a big huge commodity in the world people say its the second biggest commodity after oil and it gets trading in massive volumes. We’re slightly different where we are buying directly from small farmers, we have the luxury of actually knowing who the farmers are going and visiting them and making relationships with them.
So you actually meet them?
Our head of coffee does, Will Corby. He went up to Brazil a few weeks ago and is going to Columbia in a few weeks. With the supply chain there is a huge amount of trust involved and relationships. Obviously monitoring what is going on in every single farm at all times is pretty much impossible.
In terms of Fairtrade, Fairtrade was set up in 1992 to deal with the fact that coffee prices had massively plummeted and a lot of people were struggling with that. So it actually served a really important role and it still does now, but with our business model and the way we are set up as direct trade it doesn’t apply so much to us.
Because we know the farmers and trust them we know they are looking after their workers, and I know its hard to take our word for it, rather than with independent certification but what we have committed to is all the coffee we buy is at least 125% more than the fair trade rate. That commitment was made from the fact that we knew lots of people were concerned that we didn’t have the Fairtrade mark.
Picking coffee is actually quite an expert skill, picking speciality coffee, picking good quality coffee. Because coffee pickers will end up going through fields and picking out just the right ones and picking them at just the right time, which is a big part of the skill of getting the coffee at its very best. The coffee that we’re buying is picked by really expert people who are not likely to be being paid the most basic rates. So they get paid well for what they do because they are experts at it.
Since coffee is seasonal, how does this work when it is in demand all year round?
From the farmers point of view they have to have a degree of reliability about looking ahead because when you plant coffee plants it takes a few years until you are getting your crop so you want to know that the business is there. Our thing is that because we get to know our farmers, when we know we have got a good coffee we tell them we bought a batch off which it was really popular and sold really quickly on the websites, customers give us feedback about every coffee, so we know whether they like it or dislike it and if they really like it we will be back next year to buy it off the farmers for sure. So we give them that degree of reliability knowing that the business will keep coming year after year.
Now that the Pact name is out there, could any campaigns be on the cards related to your new fair trading model?
There are other companies who support the same things as us so I don’t see a campaign as such. I think it is more just about education and explaining to people how it works because people can get quite emotional particularly defending the Fairtrade model. There is a load of work that is being done by SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies), which is mentioned in our blog.
SOAS have done a bunch of work around Fairtrade and certification, and we’re in touch with them to help them do that kind of work specifically for specialty coffee as opposed to commodity coffee which is the mass produced product which Nescafé buy and supermarkets buy.
With climate change there have been some issues with various farms. What is Pacts stance on helping farmers who are affected by climate change and the fluctuation of coffee prices?
We are confident that we can find really great coffee without too much of a problem and it’s not going to alter our prices or affect our ability to pay Fairtrade rates. We actually paid on average 151% of the Fairtrade rate last year so it’s quite a lot more than 125 but that is because it’s really nice coffee and that’s what it’s worth.
There is a really interesting example that we have got on at the moment when Will went to Brazil on this recent trip. They were negotiating a sell from one of the farmers for the coffee who said how much he wanted for his coffee, however when Will looked at it and compared it to the Fairtrade price it was actually below our commitment for 125%. So we have come up with this idea which is to invest in his farm with the money difference which we need to pay him. We have offered to buy him a new drying patio for his coffee which means he can produce his coffee more efficiently in great volumes and we know he makes really great coffee we have tasted it and it fits the quality brackets.
To find out more about Pact and even order your special bag of fresh coffee head over to their website www.pactcoffee.com