Shoreditch-based Liberation Foods is flying the flag for fairtrade goods. Thomas Macaulay finds out more
Fairtrade is big business in Hackney. The council itself has had fairtrade status since 2008, and this year they added a category for best fairtrade business at the Mayor of Hackney’s Business Awards.
The winner, announced on 23 February, was Liberation Foods, the UK’s only fairtrade, farmer-owned nut company.
“We may have shareholder nut producers and customers all over the world, but the heart of our business is in Hackney,” says Kate Gaskell, the company’s managing director.
“We were set up by a cooperative of small-scale nut producers from all over the world. They got together and chose Hackney as the base to launch their own company to bring their nuts direct to market.”
The company was founded in 2007 by development NGO Twin, which has been based in Hackney since 1985. From its office on Curtain Road, Shoreditch, Twin has been behind the launches of Cafédirect– a coffee and tea producer– and Divine Chocolate.
“Ninety per cent of our work is in coffee, but we also work on cocoa and nuts,” says Cristina Ruiz, the company’s head of coffee programme.
“We work with the cooperatives to make them stronger and help them provide services to the farmers.”
Twin buys its ingredients directly from the producers in Africa and Latin America, before selling them to their roster of clients such as Liberation Foods.
The alluring scent of fresh coffee permeates the Twin offices in Curtain Road, thanks to the addition of a new coffee lab to test the raw ingredients.
From the glass lab in the centre of the office, staff roast the green coffee beans and brew them from a variety of machines before tasting and scoring the different cups of coffee from the top of a thick wooden table.
“An interesting thing about coffee is that most farmers have never tried it because it’s an export crop,” says Ms Ruiz. “We also try to promote it to the farmers, so they try the coffee and understand the value of it, the quality and flavours.”
Ms Ruiz says the growth of fairtrade retailers in Hackney is impressive. As the supply of ethically sourced products surges in the borough, so does the demand from prospective customers.
“Now they also want women’s coffee, or fairtrade and rainforest, or fairtrade and organic.”
Ms Gaskell agrees: “Fairtrade is growing in Hackney. It’s always been a hotbed for all things ethical and it’s good at reaching out to the rest of the world.
“I’ve seen more and more fairtrade items in cafes and shops here. There’s also a very active fairtrade supporters group in Hackney.”
Also shortlisted for the award was Lemonaid, which manufactures soft drinks from organically sourced fairtrade ingredients. Ms Gaskell emphasises the importance of solidarity in the fair trade community, adding that she hopes to reach out to fellow nominees:
“Until winning this award, I hadn’t been hugely engaged with the Hackney community because we’ve been busy selling our products around the country. But I think this is the start of getting more involved in Hackney itself.”
The award was particularly timely, as Fairtrade Fortnight kicked off six days later. The annual campaign, co-ordinated by the Fairtrade Foundation, runs until 13 March.
The theme for this year’s event is “Sit down for breakfast, stand up for farmers.”
As Martin Luther King once said: “Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half the world.”
Key to the event’s organisation is the Hackney Fairtrade Group. The group was set up in 2008 to promote the fairtrade ethos across the borough. For two weeks, the group is organising events in Clapton and Stamford Hill libraries, breakfasts in community centres in Victoria Park and a children’s cafe in a church in Brownswood. The group is led by councillor Clare Potter.
“For the first time, we’re going to have a stall in a mosque, so we’re starting to work with the Muslim community as well,” says Ms Potter.
Ms Potter wants to increase the group’s membership in both numbers and diversity: “We’re very keen to get some more members from faith groups and the voluntary sector.
“We want our group to reflect all of Hackney. But in order to effectively promote fair trade in Hackney, it’s important to have that connection with the different people who can promote these ideas and make it meaningful for everybody.”
Liberation Foods video
Featured image credit: Liberation Foods