Fair Trade. It Matters.


I’ve found myself in the middle of a fairly large project, so for the next few days I’ll be running some posts that appeared in the early days of this blog — I think only about 5 of you were reading back then. 🙂

This post originally appeared here on February 10, 2009.

The things I’m most interested in when it comes to food and drink are buying products that are free of chemicals and pesticides, and buying locally whenever possible. There are some items that cannot be purchased locally, and some of those, I’ve been unwilling to do without. Two of those items are coffee and tea. When spending money on items from abroad (or even close to home, for that matter) I believe I have a social responsibility to purchase from companies that promote fair wages and fair working conditions for their employees and suppliers. We’ve all heard about the sweat shop labor in China and in other countries and many of us changed our buying habits as a result. An issue that has received less press, but one that is equally appalling, involves the conditions of, and wages paid to, coffee and cocoa farmers. This is where Fair Trade Certification come in.

What is the problem?

According to Global Exchange,

The United States consumes one-fifth of all the world’s coffee, making it the largest consumer in the world. But few Americans realize that agriculture workers in the coffee industry often toil in what can be described as “sweatshops in the fields.” Many small coffee farmers receive prices for their coffee that are less than the costs of production, forcing them into a cycle of poverty and debt.

What can we do?

Look for the Fair Trade label on the coffee and tea products we buy. According to Transfair, a nonprofit, third-party certifier of fair trade products:

The Fair Trade Certified™ label guarantees:

A fair price
The Fair Trade Certified label guarantees that farmers and workers received a fair price for their product. The Fair Trade price means that farmers can feed their families and that their children can go to school instead of working in the fields.

Quality products
By receiving a fair price, Fair Trade producers can avoid cost-cutting practices that sacrifice quality. The Fair Trade producers’ traditional artesanal farming methods result in exceptional products.

Care for the environment
Most Fair Trade Certified coffee, tea and chocolate in the US is certified organic and shade grown. This means that the products you buy maintain biodiversity, provide shelter for migratory birds and help reduce global warming.

Community impact
Empowered by the economic stability provided by Fair Trade, members of the COSURCA coffee cooperative in Colombia successfully prevented the cultivation of more than 1,600 acres of coca and poppy, used for the production of illicit drugs. In Papua New Guinea, the AGOGA cooperative, is investing in a medical team to meet the healthcare needs of its isolated rural community. In the highlands of Guatemala, indigenous Tzutuhil Mayans in the La Voz cooperative are sending local kids to college for the first time. Near Lake Titicaca, in Peru, the CECOVASA cooperative is assisting members from Quechua and Aymara indigenous groups in raising coffee quality and transitioning to certified organic production.

“The fair price is a solution. It has given us the chance to pay a good price to our farmers. Those who are not in Fair Trade want to participate. For us it is a great opportunity. It gives us hope.”
-Benjamin CholotĂ­o

Fair Trade coffees and teas can be purchased through a variety of companies. Two are:

Equal Exchange, offering coffees, teas, cocoa products, and snacks.

Green Mountain Coffee has an extensive line of Fair Trade Coffees including Newman’s Own Organics, as well as Fair Trade Teas and Hot Cocoa.

Fair Trade does not necessarily mean more expensive. I’ve been buying Nell’s Breakfast Blend, one in the Newman’s Own line, from Green Mountain for some time now. It costs no more than the non-Fair Trade coffee I’d been buying before. All it takes is a little time to consider where our purchasing dollars go.

Don’t forget to enter the business card giveaway. Deadline is Friday, 9/4 at midnight EST.

Featured Do-Gooder: Equal Exchange Fundraising

From time to time Smart Green Tips will feature an organization that is a “Do-Gooder”: a group that works to help both people and the environment. The Do-Gooders may be companies, nonprofits, or any organized group that focuses its efforts on making the world a better place.

Need to do a fundraiser with your school or church group, but tired of selling candles, wrapping paper, and other overpriced items people don’t really need or want? For an entirely different fundraising experience, I encourage you to try Equal Exchange.

Equal Exchange is a Fair Trade Co-op, which means that fair wages are guaranteed to the farmers who produce the products they sell. From the Equal Exchange website:

As a Fair Trade and organic fundraiser, Equal Exchange’s fundraising program is an environmentally friendly alternative to conventional fundraisers. Organic farming practices ensure no chemicals or pesticides were used in the production of Equal Exchange products, protecting farmers who grow the products, the surrounding environment, birds and other wildlife, and consumers. Coffee in particular grows best in a shaded environment. Fair Trade principles also encourage environmentally sustainable farming practices so that farmers are able to remain on their land and enjoy productive harvests. Additionally, many of our farmer partners are involved in reforestation efforts, diversification projects, and other environmentally sustainable projects within their communities. Equal Exchange fundraising materials are printed on 100% post-consumer waste paper.

There are a variety of items available in their Fundraising Brochure: coffees, teas, hot cocoa, baking cocoa, chocolates, nuts, and dried cranberries.

In the Fall of 2008 I did a fundraiser through Equal Exchange with a group of teenagers and couldn’t have had a better experience. There are several reasons why I think this is the way to go for any fundraiser.

â—ŠTheir products are consumable. People don’t have to worry about cluttering up their homes with more stuff. Also, it allows them to replace items they would buy anyway with products that are socially and environmentally responsible.

â—ŠThe profit margin is excellent. Based on my experience with other fundraisers in the past, Equal Exchange provides the best opportunity for your group to make money while helping a worthy cause.

â—ŠThe quality of the products is outstanding. I purchased nearly one of everything offered in the fundraising catalog and I was impressed with all of them. I am a coffee and tea lover and these products are some of the best I’ve had. Our “customers” agreed.

â—ŠTheir website provides a wealth of educational materials. Equal Exchange makes it easy to educate your sales group and your customers about the importance of Fair Trade and organic goods.

â—ŠThe support and customer service are great. From the very beginning of our project, Ruthie helped us along. She answered questions, offered suggestions, and followed up to make sure everything went well for us. Once I placed the order, we received our products within days. The turnaround was amazing.

I should note that I am not being paid by Equal Exchange for this article. I really do believe they are a great company with a great mission. This is a fundraiser I feel good about. The teens I worked with felt good about it, too, and were excited by the opportunity to help the farmers.

If your group needs to raise funds, please consider Equal Exchange. You can find out more about their fundraising program here.

If you are a religious group and would like to raise money, you can get more information by emailing their Interfaith Program at interfaith@equalexchange.coop.

Why Fair Trade Matters

The things I’m most interested in when it comes to food and drink are buying products that are free of chemicals and pesticides, and buying locally whenever possible. There are some items that cannot be purchased locally, and some of those, I’ve been unwilling to do without. Two of those items are coffee and tea. When spending money on items from abroad (or even close to home, for that matter) I believe I have a social responsibility to purchase from companies that promote fair wages and fair working conditions for their employees and suppliers. We’ve all heard about the sweat shop labor in China and in other countries and many of us changed our buying habits as a result. An issue that has received less press, but one that is equally appalling, involves the conditions of, and wages paid to, coffee and cocoa farmers. This is where Fair Trade Certification come in.

What is the problem?

According to Global Exchange,

The United States consumes one-fifth of all the world’s coffee, making it the largest consumer in the world. But few Americans realize that agriculture workers in the coffee industry often toil in what can be described as “sweatshops in the fields.” Many small coffee farmers receive prices for their coffee that are less than the costs of production, forcing them into a cycle of poverty and debt.

What can we do?

Look for the Fair Trade label on the coffee and tea products we buy. According to Transfair, a nonprofit, third-party certifier of fair trade products:

The Fair Trade Certified™ label guarantees:

A fair price
The Fair Trade Certified label guarantees that farmers and workers received a fair price for their product. The Fair Trade price means that farmers can feed their families and that their children can go to school instead of working in the fields.

Quality products
By receiving a fair price, Fair Trade producers can avoid cost-cutting practices that sacrifice quality. The Fair Trade producers’ traditional artesanal farming methods result in exceptional products.

Care for the environment
Most Fair Trade Certified coffee, tea and chocolate in the US is certified organic and shade grown. This means that the products you buy maintain biodiversity, provide shelter for migratory birds and help reduce global warming.

Community impact
Empowered by the economic stability provided by Fair Trade, members of the COSURCA coffee cooperative in Colombia successfully prevented the cultivation of more than 1,600 acres of coca and poppy, used for the production of illicit drugs. In Papua New Guinea, the AGOGA cooperative, is investing in a medical team to meet the healthcare needs of its isolated rural community. In the highlands of Guatemala, indigenous Tzutuhil Mayans in the La Voz cooperative are sending local kids to college for the first time. Near Lake Titicaca, in Peru, the CECOVASA cooperative is assisting members from Quechua and Aymara indigenous groups in raising coffee quality and transitioning to certified organic production.

“The fair price is a solution. It has given us the chance to pay a good price to our farmers. Those who are not in Fair Trade want to participate. For us it is a great opportunity. It gives us hope.”
-Benjamin CholotĂ­o

Fair Trade coffees and teas can be purchased through a variety of companies. Two are:

Equal Exchange, offering coffees, teas, cocoa products, and snacks.

Green Mountain Coffee has an extensive line of Fair Trade Coffees including Newman’s Own Organics, as well as Fair Trade Teas and Hot Cocoa.

Fair Trade does not necessarily mean more expensive. I’ve been buying Nell’s Breakfast Blend, one in the Newman’s Own line, from Green Mountain for some time now. It costs no more than the non-Fair Trade coffee I’d been buying before. All it takes is a little time to consider where our purchasing dollars go.