“We want to do the right thing”

We recently had the pleasure of meeting iCafe founder and managing director, Umer Malik, at one of his cafes to discuss his commitment to and passion for Fair Trade. We were greeted by a talkative man, to whom ethical business and social responsibility are close to heart. Not only has Umer gone from having one small 6 seater café to owning several catering establishments and a wholesale company, he has even personally travelled to meet the farmers that make his coffee. He believes each cup of coffee has a story behind it, 6 years of hard work, which we consume in a short span of time without a second thought.

Could you tell us a little bit about iCafe’s background?

iCafe started out as my final year University project in 2005. At the time internet cafes were soulless and boring, I wanted to combine great coffee and internet cafe into a new, modern experience. From the very beginning we wanted to ethically source as many products as possible. What truly mattered to us was that both our workers here and our producers elsewhere get paid a fair price for their work, as well as serving high quality organic and ecological products. With so many labels around, and difficulty finding just the right product for us, we decided to make our own triple certified blend: “if you can’t find it, do it yourself.”

More specifically on Fair Trade, Umer believes in taking one small step at a time, with the company sourcing several products with Fair Trade ingredients: “I believe everyone wants to shape things in our way and do good. We want to do the right thing.”

Umer thinks that more consumer education is needed to raise awareness of what Fair Trade stands for. Whilst even children recognise the Fairtrade logo, Umer thinks many do not think about its actual message. “Customers associate the Fairtrade logo with higher quality, not necessarily thinking about the impact it has on the producer”, he sums up. Overall, Umer believes that the Fairtrade mark raises the image of the business, but interestingly, doesn’t think it’s a determining factor in whether a customer decides to buy their products. When asked how consumers can urge businesses to sell Fair Trade, Umer thinks voting with one’s money is the most efficient way to influence the decision making in a company. He thinks a company has to either strongly believe in the ethical nature of Fairtrade, or gain more income from selling it. Yet, he wishes this would be done by increasing the number of customers, rather than charging a premium just for the Fairtrade brand.

How can organisations like ours help businesses that are interested in going Fair Trade?

More consumer education is needed, especially events that promote Fair Trade. Events should be more frequent, as Fair Trade seems to disappear from the agenda after the odd event every year. Furthermore, the type of advertisement needs to change to reflect the times we’re living in. Leaflets have been around for years, and get easily ignored by people. Fair Trade needs to go digital and find ways to catch people’s attention again. If more people don’t get involved, you are only going to have the same couple of people who come to the events and are making choices based on the Fairtrade mark.

Umer also wants to hear more positive stories from those whose lives have been improved by Fair Trade. This links with Umer’s commitment to raising the awareness of the story behind each cup of coffee; he wants people to think about the journey and effort that go into each cup they consume. In the future, Umer hopes to track the exact route that coffee beans travel before arriving to his stores. He hopes more businesses commit to quality and fairness, rather than trying to cut corners whenever they can: “Think about free range eggs. If you check the small print it can say free range up to 30 meters. That is not free range. And certainly not a justification for charging an extra quid,” Umer explains.

As part of our local business engagement campaign, the Scottish Fair Trade forum will be featuring interviews with representatives of local businesses to hear their views and thoughts on Fair Trade. We hope these interviews will give us an insight into the reasons why businesses do or do not stock Fair Trade, and in turn will equip local campaigners with the knowledge and confidence to  have similar conversations about Fair Trade with businesses in their own area.