Why Is Tea So Expensive? Part II

A lot is being said these days about “Fair Trade” teas. The stated goal is noble: to assure that tea growers get a fair price for their products. Anyone who works hard to produce something wants that.

The question is: Do “Fair Trade” policies benefit tea growers as they claim, or do they just add to the shelf price of tea? Tea drinkers need to assess the issue from a rational perspective.

What is “Fair Trade”

Nibble.com, a site that focuses on specialty foods, gives the following definition:

Fair trade certification allows farmers to receive higher prices than they would in the conventional market. It means that the farmers were paid a fair price for their product and were not exploited by middlemen who pay them less than their crop is worth. See a longer discussion of Fair Trade Certification.

[Author’s note: The above link just goes to Nibble.com’s Glossary. You may want to do a search online for more objective information.]
The wording of this definition is hardly objective and gives no proof of its assertions. The market and the parties involved in the transaction are supposed to determine what a product’s “fair price” is. What supports their charge that middlemen exploit tea growers? Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty, a cornerstone of our justice system? I encourage sites touting “Fair Trade” policies to think about this a bit more.

Truth be told, those “middlemen” risk and deal with a lot, including government regulations in the tea producing country as well as in the market country, to get tea to the stores. All the while, they are vilified by just about everyone, often without proof.

Here’s the seal:

Bottom Line

“Fair Trade” seems to me to be another designation to justify higher retail prices. Learn the facts about “Fair Trade” so you don’t end up paying more without getting more value and without doing “a good deed,” such as helping those poor downtrodden tea growers. (Besides, middlemen have families to feed, too.)

As for me, I’ll just have another cup of tea brought to me by a lot of hard-working people, including those much-maligned middlemen.

Don’t miss part III about the growing popularity of “organic” tea.

© 2009 A.C. Cargill photos and text

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