Many Tunbridge Wells shoppers make sure to buy Fairtrade products, confident in the knowledge that they are promoting ethical trading – but is it really making a difference?
Co-founder of Bluebird Tea Co Krisi Smith is sceptical, arguing it’s ‘not so black and white’.
Miss Smith opened her store in Royal Victoria Place along with partner Mike Turner in April, selling original tea blends. But their products do not bear the Fairtrade logo, despite paying their suppliers above the body’s minimum price. While accepting Fairtrade’s ‘good intentions’ by enforcing a minimum price per kilo of tea, she is concerned that the premium which consumers pay does not end up in the hands of the workforce, nor is it used to improve working or living conditions.
“From my experience within the industry I have seen the Fairtrade logo used as more of a marketing tool to allow Fairtrade teas to fetch a higher price on the supermarket shelf and that only benefits the brand selling it, not those producing it on the ground.”
She acknowledges that a minimum price for tea may help ‘the lowest grades and the lowest standards,’ but she advocates a direct approach to achieve more ethical trading.
“I think the best way of empowering change is to give control back to the producers, much like the buy local movement I have seen growing in Tunbridge Wells.
“If producers and farmers are able to bring their product direct to market we cut out the middle man and they get to take home a fair price for their goods. That is what I consider to be fair trade.”
This countervailing view appears to be becoming more widely held in the town. Award-winning coffee blogger Henry Wilson telling the Times last month [August 24] that he favoured a process of direct trade, as cutting out intermediaries results in a fairer price and a better working relationship between the purchaser and supplier.
Miss Smith insisted she did not want to knock anyone in the town, but encouraged residents to read around topics to combat the way in which the Fairtrade brand encourages consumers to presume all is right in the industry.
“Fair trade is about more than having a sticker. It’s about knowing exactly where your produce is from. With Fairtrade, do you actually know?’
Bluebird Tea Co. started in 2013 by co-founders Krisi Smith and Mike Turner. Opening their first store in Brighton Lanes in 2014.
After opening a pop-up in Tunbridge Wells in December 2015, they moved into their permanent premises near the entrance of RVP in April this year.
The pair describe themselves as ‘tea mixologists,’ having created 150 flavours of tea over the last three years.
Miss Smith’s book – The World Atlas of Tea – was released this month.
Part of the ‘World Atlas’ series, the book covers her trip to Sri Lanka and Japan in which she illustrates the ‘leaf to cup’ story behind tea, detailing the way in which tea fits into various cultures’ history and traditions and cuisine.
To find out more on Bluebird Tea, you can visit: www.bluebirdteaco.com
The Times took Krisi Smith’s comments to the Tunbridge Wells Fairtrade Group. Their chair, Mandy Flashman-Wells, gave us this response.