Cafédirect: A Fairtrade Pioneer

A worker from the Mpanga Growers’ Tea Factory

20 June 2011

The philosophy is simple: Buy direct from disadvantaged, yet highly skilled, smallholder coffee growers in developing countries to enable them to bring their quality products to UK consumers.

Cafédirect is one of Fairtrade’s longest standing partners and licensees. Founded in 1989 in response to the collapse of international coffee prices, cafédirect even preceded the FAIRTRADE Mark in the UK, which was introduced three years later.

More than 20 years on, the company still trades directly with their grower partners, but has expanded beyond coffee into tea and hot chocolate. They work with 39 grower organizations in 13 countries and have grown to be the UK’s largest Fairtrade hot drinks company. Their visionary social engagement also led to them winning the Guardian Sustainable Business social impact award last month.

Cafédirect exemplifies the Fairtrade vision of enabling producers to take more control of their lives and determine their own future. As Head of Communications Jacquie Bance puts it: “It’s about empowering the producers to decide for themselves what is needed, not us determining what is best for them”.

To help achieve this, cafédirect partners with growers through the Cafédirect Producers’ Foundation. Governed by producers and supported by funding from cafédirect, the Foundation provides each organization with funds to invest in their business and improve the livelihoods of grower communities. The growers make their own project plans with support from Foundation staff, who make regular field visits. More than 50 percent of cafedirect’s profits have been invested in this programme to date. Typical projects include training, improving quality and investing in processing facilities.

The result: increased productivity, high-quality produce and empowered grower communities

The Mpanga Growers’ Tea Factory in Uganda is one group that has benefited from cafédirect’s approach. Both Fairtrade certified and a cafédirect partner for ten years, all 782 smallholder growers have benefited from the combination of Fairtrade Premium money and additional training and investment from cafédirect. Access roads, packing machines and latrines are just some of the projects the growers have funded through the Fairtrade Premium. Training on food safety and hazard analysis through Cafédirect funds have improved safety and helped improve productivity. Digital weighing scales ensure complete transparency for the tea farmers and speed up payment of invoices.

“The partnership with cafédirect has been very helpful to our business” says Rogers Siima, General Manager at Mpanga. “Cafédirect has been instrumental in assisting Mpanga obtain certifications such as hazard analysis of critical control points that ensures we produce a safe product for consumption. The Cafédirect Producers’ Foundation has also funded management information system improvements which have greatly improved our business relationship with the farmers and the time taken to do reports”.

In the future cafédirect hopes to expand even further, setting up more direct partnerships with smallholder growers and enabling them to make their own way out of poverty.

Cafédirect’s products are sold in retail outlets in the UK and online. For more information visit their website:

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