It's a stunningly beautiful and terrifically complicated world out there, full of big challenges and big opportunities. A big world, big in every way, and getting bigger by the minute. But the truth is that "bigness" doesn't equal fairness. At Ben & Jerry’s, being fair means a lot to us—being fair not just to our employees and fellow ice-cream lovers, but to the people who grow all the mouth watering ingredients we use in our flavors. That's why we've been working for over 10 years with Fairtrade International.
Here’s How It Works
Fairtrade is all about small—in a big way. It makes sure that small-scale farmers don't get trampled in the worldwide rush toward industrial agriculture and mega-farming. Imagine that you're an independent coffee farmer in Mexico trying to sell your modest crop in the conventional way, via the mass market. The price has been driven down by larger competition to such a degree that you can barely even afford to keep your land. Perhaps other small farmers have already given up, leaving to go find work in the city. With so little money coming in, local villages and towns suffer as well. No investments = crumbling infrastructure, which in turns leads to a lack of opportunities for everyone.
Fairtrade changes the equation entirely. Farmers get paid a fair price for their product in the Fairtrade system, which is good for them. It's also good for us, because we get to put their high-quality ingredients in our ice cream. The best thing about it, though, is that it's good for everyone else, too. All farmers in the Fairtrade system agree to implement fair labor practices, use environmentally-friendly farming practices, and invest in their communities. Successful farms, a healthy environment, vibrant communities, and delicious ice cream – sounds great to us!
Fairtrade at Ben & Jerry’s
Ben & Jerry’s set itself a goal to convert to ingredients that are non-GMO and Fairtrade Certified. Our first fully converted pints shipped in April 2014, and by October 2014 all of the ingredients that could be sourced as Fairtrade in our pints were sourced as Fairtrade Certified (and non-GMO by source). It was a massive undertaking, considering that we had about 80 flavors, 110 ingredients and more than 200 different products to transition.
We felt like it was worth it. But now we are able to look back and study exactly what kind of impact all of this has had on the farmers that we get our ingredients from. Fairtrade ensures that all farmers get paid a minimum price to cover the cost of sustainable production, one that never falls below the market price. But there is an additional sum of money paid on top of that minimum price: this is called the Fairtrade social premium. Farmers decide for themselves how to invest these funds to improve their lives and livelihoods, as well as those of their communities. In 2015, Ben & Jerry’s paid a Fairtrade social premium of $1,895,778.
We use 5 Fairtrade Certified ingredients: sugar, cocoa, vanilla, coffee and bananas. For each ingredient, here’s how much Fairtrade social premium was paid to our small-scale farmers and farming co-ops around the world in 2015:
• Sugar: $1,221,687
• Cocoa: $510,153
• Vanilla: $98,235
• Coffee: $51,124
• Bananas: $14,580
Our sugar comes from a variety of small-scale farmers, including those in the Belize Sugar Farmers’ Association, a leading sugar producer globally. Investments utilizing the Fairtrade social premium proved critical, helping to save their sugar crop through the use of alternative pest-management practices, which simultaneously drastically decreased the application of harmful pesticides (protecting their health and the environment).
All of those delicious chocolate chunks don't arrive in our pints by magic. We work with cocoa growers in the Ivory Coast, a country that produces about 40% of the world's cocoa (although little of that is produced under Fairtrade conditions). Our Fairtrade social premium here contributed to some exciting developments. One co-op, for example, built a new medical clinic, hired a nurse, purchased a water pump, and installed solar panels!
Sourced from Madagascar and Uganda, our vanilla is an essential ingredient in dozens of flavors. The bulk of the world's vanilla is grown in Madagascar, yet many farmers are struggling to stay in business. And when farms fail, communities do too. Fairtrade prices can help address this cycle of poverty, and one of the co-ops we work with has put their Fairtrade social premium to use building an office, repairing a school, and rehabilitating a health center.
The Huatusco Coffee Cooperative in Mexico supplies us with much of our coffee—in the past five years, we have sourced almost 300,000 pounds of Fairtrade coffee for Coffee Toffee Bar Crunch and other flavors. Our Fairtrade social premium is helping the cooperative's 1,465 farmers (and their families and communities) build schools, a library, and a medical center; develop scholarships and education projects; and produce 400 tons of compost.
We sourced 555 metric tons of bananas from the El Guabo Cooperative in Ecuador in 2014. The Fairtrade social premium this generated helped the co-op's 154 farmers with various essential projects, like making healthcare more readily available to farmers and their families, providing scholarships to local children, and helping children in need with language and physical therapy.
It's easy, perhaps too easy, to overlook the impact our decisions—whether as producers or consumers—can have on people and communities all around the this big world. Fairtrade offers us all a chance to take a moment and consider what it is that really matters. Sure, it was a complex undertaking, but ensuring that all the good stuff that goes into our flavors is Fairtrade Certified makes Ben & Jerry’s ice cream taste all the sweeter. Remember: when you buy products with the FAIRTRADE Mark (the green and blue symbol you see on each of our pints), you're helping small-scale farmers in developing countries survive, and even thrive, in the (often chaotic and overwhelming) global marketplace. Picking up a pint of ice cream might seem like a small gesture, but it can make a big difference.