Coffee is a business of pretty pictures and harsh realities. Roasters and coffee shops around the world depend upon farmers to produce the excellent beans that we love. Too often however, producers reap too little of the profits that are being generated along the value chain.
An increasing number of actors in the coffee industry have recognized that the only way to secure the production of great coffee is to increase its sustainability along the value chain. And ultimately sustainability in coffee production must start with producers earning a living income. If producers cannot make enough money from their work, they are forced to cut corners on sustainable production or eventually move out of coffee completely.
Transparency certainly can’t solve this problem by itself. Transparency might not be able to guarantee if the business relationship between farmers and coffee buyers is right. It cannot guarantee that trading relations are meaningful or that the prices that are paid for green coffee are adequate and can guarantee a living income to producers.
What it might reveal though, is when business relations aren’t as good as they seem. Transparency can ensure that marketing claims that would otherwise stand for itself must be backed by actual facts. Therefore it can make communication towards consumers more honest.
What transparency can also accomplish is to enable actors along the supply chain to make informed choices. Transparency can contribute to challenge current pricing mechanisms based on commodity stock market prices. Transparent Trade Coffee and the Specialty Coffee Transaction Guide are excellent initiatives that tackle this challenge.
The idea to create The Pledge popped up during the transparent trade colloquium in Hamburg in 2018 and evolved from there. As a group of committed people in the coffee supply chain, we feel that transparency should necessarily mean one thing: transparency of pricing in coffee negotiations. To set an example for the coffee industry, we need to openly communicate how much we are paying for our coffees.
In a lot of ways, transparency is a word like freedom. It’s a positively connotated symbol that can be filled with different content and is subject to interpretation. When it comes to transparency reporting, that can be a problem. Companies that misuse this concept for marketing purposes will define transparency in a different way, not revealing green coffee prices but still claiming to be transparent.
Companies that sign The Pledge agree to share a fixed set of variables when reporting on green coffee purchases. We aim to create a common standard for transparency reporting that is applicable throughout the coffee world. By disclosing additional information like the name of the producer organisation, the lot size and the cup quality of the coffee we add context to our transparency reports that makes them comparable and truly transparent.
In a nutshell: In order to be truly transparent, we should be transparent about what we are transparent about.