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 Cholotío

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.

Comments

  1. Great post. Anything you can buy that is locally grown will help reduce your carbon footprint immensely. Eating more greens and less meat will contribute to this as well. Meat is heavy, and thus has a higher energy cost to produce and ship. Keep up the good work.

  2. Thanks for the comment. I agree. We’ve been cutting back on meat a bit and trying to buy it locally when possible. We found a little farm about 20 minutes from where we live that raises grass-finished, free-roaming beef.

  3. Shared Interest is the world’s only 100% fair trade lender. We work with hundreds of fair trade businesses in the developing world providing them with credit financing they need to grow and expand their operations. We have seen first hand how fair trade has dramatically improved the quality of life for so many. By choosing fair trade coffee, you are giving a hand up not a hand out without sacrificing quality.

    Well done!