What Is Fair Trade Coffee?
Put simply, Fair Trade coffee is coffee that is bought directly from coffee growers, purchased at a higher price than non-Fair Trade coffee. There’s a reason for the higher price, of course, and it’s in the name. It ensures that coffee growers aren’t underpaid. Which brings us to the history of Fair Trade coffee:
In the early 90’s, the price of coffee dropped drastically around the globe. This was the result of free trade coffee. Free trade allows traders to trade without the interference of a government. The idea behind free trade is that it better reflects supply and demand. Since the product moves directly between buyer and seller, the government is unable to arbitrarily inflate prices.
Unfortunately, free trade can also cause problems, and it did for coffee growers. The price drop of the 90’s meant that growers were selling their crop for less than it had cost them to produce. They couldn’t wait to sell their product, so they had to let it go immediately, for ridiculously low prices.
Fair Trade coffee was a reaction to this. It is, in one sense, not unlike free trade coffee, since it is purchased directly from the grower. However, Fair Trade also ensures that growers are given reasonable payment for their product. But the prices are still very reasonable for the buyer. Because Fair Trade coffee cuts out the middlemen and women, it’s no more inflated than most goods on the global market.
In a Fair Trade system, growers are always given a price that will allow them to sustain their business and maintain at least a basic standard of living. They are also provided with an added premium, which is put toward funding development projects in the area. The goal is to help build a better future for the generations to come.
Premiums work like this: Fair Trade coffee growers are required to be a part of a coop with other nearby coffee growers, and these coops decide how the premiums should be spent. The Fair Trade system encourages communities to work together, to look out for one another.
If an importer wishes to become Fair Trade certified, they must pay growers a minimum of $1.26 per pound. Upon becoming Fair Trade certified, coffee companies use the Fair Trade label on their product, so that potential customers know whether or not they’re really buying Fair Trade.
Fair Trade coffee can now be purchased almost anywhere coffee is sold. This has resulted from public awareness, which has put pressure on companies to purchase Fair Trade. Both major coffee franchises and independent coffee shops purchase free trade coffee, and many purchase it exclusively. However, others purchase only a small portion of their coffee through Fair Trade.
But as public pressure continues, we will likely see companies buying more and more Fair Trade coffee. In fact, in 2006, 45 per cent more Fair Trade coffee was purchased than was the year before. There’s still a long way to go, but we’re going pretty fast.
If you want to help support Fair Trade, there are many ways of getting involved. The easiest way? Just ask your coffee vendor: “Is this coffee Fair Trade?” Or you can even buy Fair Trade coffee online. You won’t suffer for purchasing Fair Trade either: Prices for Fair Trade coffee are low, often just as low as non-Fair Trade coffee. And in the process of buying it, you’ll know that you’re making an important difference.
Image: JsBarrie / Flickr