The heart of success

In the 1980s you could be forgiven for thinking that all that mattered was money. To many that was exactly it – the eighties symbolised greed. In 1988 in the UK after much controversy one of the UK’s longest standing social enterprises, Rowntree Mackintosh, was taken over by Swiss multinational, Nestle. Ultimately the decade was about rampant greed and the injustice and unfairness that follows.

Alternatively and importantly, since 1950 the social enterprise movement had been active and in the shadows in the 1980s there was a movement towards business with purpose.

In 1991, Cafédirect was born. A genuine partnership, built on trust, between 4 UK companies and 3 smallholder farmer co-operatives.

The 4 organisations that founded Cafédirect

30 years later and Cafédirect is going from strength to strength and, crucially, so is the “business with purpose” movement.

By and large, the vast majority of business (including the coffee, tea and cocoa industry) are set in their ways – focused on profit above everything else. But not Cafédirect. Cafédirect follows its own path – putting social and climate justice at the heart of all it does.

The big difference with Cafédirect is the long lasting, genuine partnerships with smallholder farmers. In 1991 Cafedirect was established as a direct trading initiative and has always worked hard to improve smallholder farmer’s lives and livelihoods. Sharing profits equally with the growers – giving back over £30 million in 30 years.

Procurement Manager, Matt McDonald with producers at Chirinos, Peru.

Importantly, it is not just about reinvestment, but putting smallholder farmers at the heart of everything Cafédirect does. Smallholder farmers have two main board directors on the Cafédirect board (Lebi and Raul below) ; smallholder farmers own shares in Cafédirect and smallholder farmers own and run their own stand-alone charity, Producers Direct, which transforms smallholders’ farms into sustainable businesses.

Lebi Hudson, RSTGA tea cooperative, Tanzania
  Raul Torres, Bagua Grande coffee cooperative, Peru

Over 30 years Cafédirect’s has pioneered and pushed boundaries over and over again: being born as a direct collaboration with smallholder farmers in 1991; being the first Roast and Ground coffee to hold the Fairtrade mark in 1994; crowd funding 4,500 individuals to become shareholders alongside farmer communities in 2004; leading the Social Enterprise agenda over 20 years; establishing a farmer-led charity, Producers Direct  in 2009; and being the UK’s first coffee company to be B Corp certified in 2018.

Cafédirect’s Medium Roast – the first Fairtrade Roast and Ground coffee

This approach not only changes lives and helps combat climate change but also results in the best possible coffee, tea and cocoa. In this way, the fair deal farming communities get from Cafédirect translates into truly spectacular drinks.

Cafédirect shows how business can be a force for good. And that’s environmentally as well as socially: over half the coffee Cafédirect buys is certified organic, and we’re constantly developing new sustainable practices.

Our unique and powerful purpose is cemented into our business practice in the articles of association, which explicitly details our commitment to smallholder farmers.  It’s enforced by our Guardian Share Committee, on which producers and founders sit, which ensures the business always keeps its promises. These include delivering a robust, triple bottom line framework (social, environmental and financial), and our Gold Standard, the commitments made to ensure as a publicly traded plc we do not veer from our founding principles.  Our latest Gold Standard launching this year is an ambitious sustainability strategy to ensure our targets are aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Cafédirect is not stopping at 30 years. We’re going to keep finding new ways to make a positive difference to our planet and its people. The business will continue to invest in thriving small farmers who care about their crops; engage smallholder farmers in genuine, lasting partnership and collaborate with others to help business change to be a force for good.

Everyone involved in Cafédirect – employees, shareholders, producer partners, suppliers or customers find working with purpose to be an extremely rewarding experience.

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