The Fairtrade movement has helped coffee farmers and its ideas have something to teach the digital marketing industry too, says Nigel Gilbert of AppNexus.

The 1980s were tough on coffee bean farmers. Free trade had destabilised a market dominated by large corporations, and coffee bean prices dropped so significantly that many farmers struggled to make enough profit to cover production costs. As a result, many abandoned their land, relocating to far-flung cities in search of work.

Today, the Fairtrade movement has created consortiums around the world that ensure coffee bean farmers are compensated fairly for their produce. Prices are stable, living standards have significantly improved, and growers are investing in environmentally-friendly practices. It is a win-win business – the way trade should be: fair, responsible and sustainable.

I talk of coffee for good reason: many consumers during their weekly shop ask questions about production and sourcing, deliberately seeking out Fairtrade products when selecting a brand – and there are important parallels to draw with the UK digital advertising industry today.

In the media trade, we should all be concerned about how much money publishers receive for their quality content – and that they get a fair deal. Without premium publishers, marketers will struggle to engage their audiences in brand-safe, high-quality environments, with serious consequences for all of our businesses.

In the same way that measures were put in place to make sure coffee is traded in a fair, responsible and sustainable way, we now need to ensure the same foundation exists within today’s digital ecosystem.

Marketers have the power to ask important questions of their ad tech partners about sourcing, pricing and compensation that they, as consumers, may already ask of the household products they buy. They have a right to ask for transparency in their digital supply chain, so that they can see how much of their budget actually meets the publisher and how much is lost to intermediaries and murky margins. And while, technology has been a part of the problem, technology that helps to bring more transparency is a valuable part of the solution.

The buyer has to take responsibility here, and there are things they can do now.

When they have chosen a tech vendor, they must make sure they understand how the vendor makes money, fully auditing them and understanding how they deal with sellers. Marketers should leverage tools that are available in the ecosystem to do this, such as ads.txt and transparent auctions, to help them understand how the tech works.

In the same way we seek out the Fairtrade logo for a 37p banana, marketers need to apply the same rigour to buying media and understanding the supply path where the end publisher gets the most money.

This should be common a common hygiene factor within the industry, but currently it is not. There has been a slew of column inches dedicated to marketers overhauling agency contracts, but marketers are still not focusing enough on their technology partners, who are arguably playing a more influential role in the supply chain.

As the industry searches for solutions to issues like undisclosed fees, fraud, and supply chain inefficiency, blockchain technology purports to solve, or at least reduce, these problems by shining a light into every step of the supply chain. With solutions such as Amino Payments integrating with platforms (including AppNexus and other intermediaries), the whole payment process can become auditable. When this becomes a reality for all players in the ecosystem, the whole supply chain will need to be sure that their practices and pricing are defensible.

And once we have achieved this, just like the coffee farmers, we will finally have a Fairtrade solution for publishers.