The Facts About Fair Trade Coffee

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Americans consume one fifth of the worlds coffee supply making the US the worlds largest consumer.  However few people realize how and where their coffee is grown.  The majority of the coffee consumed in the US comes from Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean where the conditions are harsh and the wages are minimal. Farmers in the coffee industry are often said to work in the “sweatshops in the fields” receiving less money per pound for coffee than it costs them to produce it.  Such cycles lead to extreme poverty and debt for the farmers in this industry.  It is for these reasons that many organizations feel Fair Trade Coffee is becoming more important than ever.

Fair Trade Organizations partner with small-scale farmer co-ops that are democratically organized so decisions are made on the farmer’s terms. They create equitable and fair partnerships with farmers that bridge the gap between consumers and producers.  They focus on improving the conditions and wages of farmers, eliminating the middlemen so more consumer money goes to the producer and sustaining the environment through healthy farming.  Fair Trade Coffee means that the coffee you drink was grown, processed and purchased under strict regulations that are fair to the producer, the consumer and the environment.  For Fair Trade Coffee, importers are required to pay a minimum price of $1.26 per pound regardless of world market price. With the world market price of coffee at an all time low, this ensures that farmers receive enough money to achieve a decent living wage.  Sadly, even when world coffee prices decrease, many large coffee companies still charge consumers the same price and simply pocket the difference.  Because of this many farmers are unable to maintain their livelihood on this income and end up living in poverty and debt.  

Fair Trade Organizations make a network of non-profit certifiers that provide support for farmers and importers to effectively communicate and build lasting partnerships.  Through these organizations, importers provide farmers with education so they can learn better farming methods to increase yield, transition to organic farming, and increase worker safety.  In addition, they help build local farming communities, provide technical support and assist with health care.  Fair Trade importers promise to make affordable credit available to farmer co-operatives and agree to pay the fees associated with certification.  Because of the global demand for this commodity, the Global Exchange Organization believes that all coffee should be Fair Trade Certified, Certified Organic and sustainable.

Aside from fair pricing and conditions, many organizations are in favor of Fair Trade because of its environmental benefits.  Small farmers don’t have the means to take out forests or tear out land plots for their crops.  They grow small plots of mixed crops that are often shade grown and organic. All of these practices are more eco-friendly and are better for the earth. Since modern consumers tend to demand more information about the products they purchase, the Fair Trade trend is booming.  The more people know, the more they care and the more they demand fair trade products.  Many large coffee retailers have also taken note of this new trend in coffee and carry most, if not all, Fair Trade Coffees in their stores.  Starbucks is an industry leader in Fair Trade with over 85 percent of their coffee being certified.  

While coffee is the first commodity in the US for which there is an independent monitor that guarantees that producers are paid fair wages for their products and that they work in good conditions, the trend toward equality is spreading in to many new markets as well.  Organization such as the Global Exchange hope to someday see a variety of Fair Trade products on the market, but for now, they are happy to support coffee.

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