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Choose Fair Trade Certified coffee

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Choosing Fair Trade Certified coffee allows you to support the economic and social livelihoods of farmers in developing agricultural communities, many of whom rely on sustainable, eco-friendly farming methods.

Find it! Fair Trade Certified coffee roasters

Fair Trade Certified coffee is becoming more available and widely used. Below is a selection of reputable Fair Trade Certified coffee roasters and merchants with an online presence. Additionally, TransFair USA offers comprehensive listings of national and regional stores that offer Fair Trade Certified coffee and licensed Fair Trade Certified coffee roasters.

Before you buy

With growing consumer demand to make black coffee "green," the labeling on your bag of beans can be bewildering. A common question when buying Fair Trade Certified coffee is whether it's also organic. The Fair Trade label does not guarantee that the coffee is organic; the label signifies only how the coffee was traded, not how it was grown. But, according to the Organic Trade Association, around 85 percent of Fair Trade Certified coffee sold in the United States is, in fact, also certified organic. If you're unsure about the organic status of your Fair Trade Certified coffee, ask your seller or look for an organic certification label in addition to the Fair Trade Certified label. Fair Trade Certified coffee may also be shade-grown. Look for the shade-grown label to be sure.

Choosing Fair Trade Certified coffee helps you go green because...

  • It promotes ecologically sound, small-scale farming practices.
  • It supports the economic and social welfare of small producers in developing agricultural communities that do not have the financial means to afford chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

Coffee-based drinks are the most widely consumed beverages in the world alongside water. In the United States alone, 400 million cups are drunk by an estimated 56 percent of the adult population on a daily basis.[1] This high demand makes the crop itself one of the world's most valuable commodities, second only to petroleum, and supports an industry that employs 25 million people around the globe.[2] Coffee—which is made from the roasted seeds or beans of the coffee tree—is produced both organically and conventionally in 53 countries, with Brazil and Colombia being the most active producers. When grown conventionally, coffee is treated with more chemicals in the farming process than any other product farmed for human use, except tobacco.

The coffee crisis

Coffee production is currently in a state of crisis—an imbalance of supply and demand has been created due to a rapid increase in production, especially in Indonesia and Vietnam during the 1990s, that has failed to match the slower increase in consumption. Not only has this affected both farmers and natural ecosystems as more land is cleared for production, but the price of coffee now hovers near historic lows.

Since the late 1980s when coffee-exporting nations generated approximately $10 to $12 billion from the crop annually, revenue has dropped to around $5 billion, according to the International Coffee Organization. In countries that rely on coffee exportation as a central source of revenue, the total losses exceed monetary aid. This has led to social unrest, rural unemployment, and illegal immigration.

What is Fair Trade?

The practice of fair trade helps to alleviate the worldwide coffee crisis by ensuring that coffee farmers receive a living wage for their product——a minimum of $1.26/pound.[3] In this way, fair trade is designed to foster an economically stable relationship between North American consumers and farmers in Asian, Latin American, and African countries, while also promoting safe, humane labor conditions.

In the United States, Fair Trade Certified coffee is marketed under strict guidelines set forth by TransFair USA, a nonprofit organization that monitors fair trade practices in developing agricultural communities under the umbrella association Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International (FLO). These guidelines, based on the seven principles of Fair Trade established by the Fair Trade Federation, are:

  • Fair wages: Coffee farmers receive a minimum price for their crop and an extra price premium if their coffee is certified organic, guaranteeing that they make a living wage.
  • Fair labor conditions: Safe working conditions and no forced child labor are key.
  • Direct trade: Importers buy the cocoa from Fair Trade producer co-ops as much as possible to allow farmers to develop business acumen and to cut out middlemen who take part of the profits.
  • Democratic and transparent organizations: Decisions about how to invest revenues are made democratically by the farmers and farm workers.
  • Community development: Money is invested in social and business development projects that farmers and workers decide upon such as scholarship programs, organic agriculture training or building health clinics.
  • Environmental sustainbility: Protection of the environment is an integral part of farm management, with restricted use of fertilizers and pesticides and no GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Farmers are encouraged to work toward organic certification, but are not required to do so. When coffee is both Fair Trade Certified and Certified Organic, it will display two separate labels signifying this. Because fair trade coffee producers are commonly small holders who are unable to invest in environmentally damaging practices, such as synthetic pesticides and clear-cutting, many agree to grow certified organic products and direct premiums toward concerns such as health care, education, and housing.

Fair trade certification is not limited to coffee. It also extends to tea, cocoa, fruits, rice, sugar, and other agricultural items. Although many handicrafts and clothing items are available and labeled as being fair trade, they have not been officially certified by TransFair USA.

Fair Trade Certified goes mainstream

The world's largest coffee and baked goods company, Dunkin' Donuts, started using Fair Trade Certified beans for their espresso products in 2003. Other major coffee houses, such as Starbucks, have trickled Fair Trade Certified coffees into their product stream in recent years, although fair trade represents only about 3.7 percent of Starbucks' coffees.[4]

Controversies

Fair Trade Certified coffee, in particular, has come under fire from economists claiming that the low price of coffee is due to overproduction and that the appeal of fair trade premiums is, in turn, triggering more and more coffee production when farmers should be switching to other crops. As a result, the price of non-fair trade coffee drops and non-fair trade farmers sink deeper into poverty.

Another objection to fair trade is that it is ineffective in relaying funds to poor producers. In addition to the higher base price of Fair Trade Certified products, retailers tack on additional mark-ups, which leads consumers to believe that all the extra premiums they're paying go directly to the producer. In reality, only a small percent reaches the producer, according to economist Tim Harford.

Related health issues

The caffeine found in coffee is known to be an addictive stimulant and, when not consumed in moderation, can lead to health-related issues such as increased heart rate and blood pressure. Heavy coffee consumption can also yellow the teeth. Additionally, heath risks can arise from the chemical residue on pesticide-sprayed, conventionally grown coffee. The higher quality coffee beans farmed using organic methods contain less acid and caffeine and, furthermore, are gentler on the human body.

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