Closing our doors

Posted by Liz Foggitt, Communications Manager, Twin on 18 October 2019

Twin legacy

Twin started in 1985 with a clear mission to revolutionise the approach to trade in favour of smallholder producers. We disrupted conventions, created thriving Fairtrade brands and worked to empower and support smallholder farmers around the world.

It is with a heavy heart that we announce we have gone into administration. After facing significant financial pressure over the past year, we have reached a point where we are unable to continue.

As we wrap up, we look back over our 35-year history to celebrate some of our unique and significant achievements.

The beginning 

Robin Murray and Michael Barratt Brown were economists, political activists and innovative thinkers who founded Twin. They sought to find alternative supply chains, based on collaboration and supportive, long-term relationships.

Twin is best known in the coffee world, but started by importing cigars, rocking chairs, gold and textiles in solidarity with cooperative movements of the eighties. In the same period, we organised conferences which laid down the basic principles of Fair Trade. 

Twin moved into trading coffee in earnest in 1989, following the collapse of the International Coffee Agreement. And since, has become a shining example of sustainable and ethical trade within the industry. We used our position to help put lesser known regions on the map by developing single origin products such as Cafédirect, Machu Picchu and help to revive the coffee industry in the Democratic Republic of the Congo following the civil war.

Cocoa and nuts came a little later – but the same principle of empowering farmers applied. Twin worked with the Ghanaian cocoa cooperative, Kuapa Kokoo, since its inception in the early 1990s. More recently, we created trading opportunities for cocoa from Sao Tomé, Sierra Leone and Uganda which were underrepresented in the market. We collaborated with peanut farmers in Malawi to improve quality and were instrumental in establishing Fairtrade standards for nuts. 

A unique approach

Twin has always believed that trade can contribute to poverty reduction and improved livelihoods for communities around the world. Our unique model of delivering projects and sharing information alongside market access through our trading arm, offered a holistic approach. We have seen that actors across the value chain benefit if investment is made in economic development, social justice and environmental sustainability.

The team challenged traditional market dynamics by confronting power imbalances within supply chains and experimenting with collaborative business models that gave greater negotiating power to producers. In Mexico, we worked with cooperatives to achieve economies of scale by exporting collectively. Twin helped create space for producers to come together and build relationships of trust and mutual support. We always viewed producer organisations as partners and experts in their field rather than beneficiaries. We facilitated exchange trips between producer groups – sometimes within one country, sometimes across continents to enable successful innovations to be replicated. For example, Mzuzu coffee (Malawi) set up an organic coffee compost plant, inspired by what they had learned from a trip to Peru. 

Over the past ten years, Twin Trading led by example. We paid 32% more than the standard market price for coffee. We generated $129 million of Fairtrade business and paid $9.8 million of additional premiums to farmers. We influenced buyers to support cooperatives and build long-term relationships.

We have been repeatedly celebrated for our gender work. From the start, we encouraged women farmers to join cooperatives and take leadership positions. We produced reports such as ‘Empowering women in farmers in agricultural value chains’ to share our unique insights and knowledge. We also disseminated Gender Action Learning Systems (GALS) training to thousands of women and men. GALS creates an environment for open discussions about gender roles and facilitates community-led change. We witnessed shifts in perspective through staff being offered recipes from men that had just learned to cook and saw women take control their finances for the first time.

Our programmes were designed according to local contexts to give strategic support. For example, we recently ran training sessions on alcohol abuse and women’s land rights in Sao Tomé for over 400 women. We have championed coffee grown by women, giving it a route to market from Malawi, Rwanda, the Congo, Indonesia and Peru. In addition to women farmers receiving a premium for their coffee, it helped change gender dynamics within households and strengthened women-led initiatives. 

Key achievements

We saw that active participation in value chains helped to build stronger futures for smallholders. When helping to establish the Fairtrade brands Cafédirect, Divine Chocolate and Liberation Foods we advocated that producers should be shareholders - not only suppliers. It has been an immense source of pride to see these pioneering brands rise in popularity and available on the shelves of mainstream supermarkets. They are a tightknit community that have galvanised consumers and influenced popular brands to use Fairtrade certification.

Structural innovation, based on the principle of producer ownership, led to the establishment of the Joint Marketing Initiative (JMI) – the first producer owned, joint marketing platform. JMI enabled producer groups to share the stories behind their coffee and created a shared market presence for high quality East African coffee. JMI also allowed producers to learn from each other’s successes and mistakes.

The power of networks 

Twin advocated for systemic change and has both led and learned from a wider network. We have contributed to what we believe is a remarkable movement. In this movement, we established longstanding relationships with customers, ethical finance institutions, retailers, certifiers and producer organisations. It is our partners’ loyalty and belief that made our work possible. We are grateful to them for standing by us and by farmers. For being willing to take risks and for having faith in emerging cooperatives that often operate in extremely challenging conditions with limited infrastructures.

We have always been a small but spirited team and were united across the offices in London and Kigali. Together, we built a powerful organisation that was truly pioneering. We leave behind a strong case for paying fair prices, farming sustainably, strengthening governance and empowering women. We accomplished a lot and walk away with pride in our success, but there is more to do. In a changing world, there are vital conversations that must be driven forward. 

As we shut down, we hope to leave a legacy of questioning the status quo and seeking to empower the most marginalised people in supply chains. We believe that our mighty network of dedicated partners will collaborate and strive to continue what we started.