What is Fair Trade Coffee?

Fair trade coffees must meet the standards set by the particular fair trade organization that is certifying them. These organizations set similar standards aimed at helping improve the quality of life for farming communities in the developing world. They promote fair wages, safe working conditions, community development, and good environmental practices.

Why Fair Trade Matters

In much of the developing world most of the world’s coffee is grown at small scale and fair labor practices are almost nonexistent. Laboring under unfair conditions for menial pay, workers don’t have power or a voice without an advocate for change.

The fair trade movement started in the 1970s as awareness of the devastating effects of a global economy on local communities. The fair trade movement advocates for fairer trading practices on behalf of exploited workers in developing countries.

The fair trade movement is empowered by individuals committed to positively impact change in the world. Every individual matters because there is power in every purchase we make. Making informed purchases can change the way people live and thrive.

Why Buy Fair Trade Coffee?

Approximately 125 million people earn their livelihood from coffee, and we aren’t just talking about baristas. All over the world, millions of people are cultivating, picking, drying, sorting, packaging, buying, selling, and shipping coffee. And, that’s only the part before it gets to its final destination. Because most coffee is grown in developing countries, and so many families (and entire economies) depend on it for their very existence, there has been a movement of conscientious people around the world to fairly support the most vulnerable members of the coffee industry.

The fair trade movement works to create stability and human thriving for coffee industry workers. They promote sustainable farming practices, community development, and require ethical labor practices (excluding forced and child labor). Buying fair trade coffee means that you’ve become part of a system of intentional, equitable practice.

Brief History of Fair Trade

Fair trade coffee came about through a series of factors related to the unreliable and sometimes even volatile international coffee market. Before the fair trade movement, coffee trading was first regulated by the International Coffee Agreement of 1962. This agreement is renegotiated and renewed every several years.

However, in 1988, there was a severe coffee crisis due to a greater supply than demand, and coffee prices plummeted. It was at this time that the Netherlands began the first fair trade coffee organization to artificially raise the prices of coffee in order to allow producers to make a living wage. Over time, several other fair trade entities were created in various countries all over the world.

The International Coffee Agreement is still in effect today, regulating quotas, keeping prices stable, and working to create a secure world coffee market. While this agreement is essential in maintaining the stability of the world coffee economy, fair trade organizations take it one step further. Fair trade organizations work to create sustainable farming, fair wages and ethical labor practices. Because of this, fair trade beans cost the consumer more, but ultimately give more back to the growers.

Fair Trade Organizations

There are several fair trade organizations that work to provide equitable and ethical practices within the international coffee community. In 1998, the four largest fair trade organizations created an informal association known as FINE. Each letter represents one of the organizations.

  • F - Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO)
  • I - International Fair Trade Association, now the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO)
  • N - Network of European Worldshops (NEWS!)
  • E - European Fair Trade Association (EFTA)

Their shared definition of fair trade really encompasses the vision and goals of the fair trade community.

"Fair trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers – especially in the South. Fair trade organizations, backed by consumers, are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade".

This greater vision of ethical practice within the coffee community is worth commending. So, the next time you drink a cup of fair trade coffee, know that it doesn’t simply taste good, it does good.

How Does Fair Trade Work?

Fair trade is a network of producers, sellers, and organizations working together to bring about positive change in lives of everyday people. That change looks like fairness in all aspects of a product’s journey, from seed to shelf. Fair trade standards work towards both human betterment and environmental sustainability. International fair trade organizations set high standards in the following areas in order to promote their ideals:

Fair Labor Practices

Workers in fair trade certified farms and businesses labor under safe working conditions, for reasonable hours, and at a living wage. Forced or child labor is strictly prohibited. Workers are treated fairly and paid fairly. Fair trade organizations require documentation and audit business to ensure compliance to these standards.

Environmental Sustainability

Fair trade certified farms use sustainable farming methods, protecting land, wildlife, and ecosystems. Water conservation, waste disposal, and protection against erosion are all monitored and held to high standards.

Direct Trade

Direct trade between importers and coffee farmers creates open communication and eliminates upcharges by middlemen. This practice empowers farmers to create ongoing relationships with buyers that benefit them in the long run.

Fair Prices

Fair trade certified coffee must be bought at a minimum price. Oftentimes, the world coffee market can be erratic. When supply outweighs demand, growers often don’t even meet the cost of production they’ve incurred. Fair trade standards protect farmers and workers from price swings by keeping a standard market pricing for fair trade coffee.

Community Development

Fair trade business practices raise the overall standard of living for entire communities. Fair trade standards funnel back into communities by providing farms with an additional premium above the higher price paid for coffee. This premium must be invested back into the local community for programs such as scholarships and healthcare development.

This is just a glimpse into the overall benefits of fair trade practices. Such practices are far reaching and generationally lasting, promoting human dignity and environmental sustainability.

What Does it Take for a Coffee Seller to be Fair Trade Certified?

So far, we’ve focused on the process of fair trade and organic certification for coffee producers. Producers or growers must meet the rigid standards of certification for either label to apply to the products they sell. Sellers of fair trade items can also be certified, so consumers can know the items they’re buying are fair trade.

Transparency is the most significant component of fair trade certification for coffee sellers. Fair Trade USA, one fair trade organization, requires quarterly reports of purchases. These reports then are audited and checked with fair trade farms for accountability. A portion of the fair trade sales then goes to Fair Trade USA to cover costs of certification maintenance and auditing.

Ocana Coffee Co. - Fair Trade USA Certified Beans Only!

Our commitment to fairness comes with a cost we’re willing to pay. We pride ourselves on only selling fair trade coffees. This means that you can trust every bean we sell as fair trade is exactly what we say it is. We are committed to ethical practices, environmental preservation, and providing our customers with a good honest cup of coffee.

Fair Trade - Weighing the Costs

Consumers pay a little more for fair trade coffee. But, what is that extra money buying? Let’s consider the benefits and see if they outweigh the costs.

Benefits of Purchasing Fair Trade Coffee

  • Working against unfair business practices
  • Fighting labor abuses, such as forced labor and child labor
  • Generational impact of family farming
  • Fair prices given to farmers for coffee, even when the global supply is elevated and prices are low
  • Access to loans and help with financing for small farms
  • Community development premiums are given to help raise local education and health standards
  • No exposure to harmful chemicals
  • Direct trade between buyers and farmers, eliminating price gouging by middle-men
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Protecting land, forests, and waterways
  • Protecting fundamental human rights

Is Fair Trade Coffee Organic?

Not all fair trade coffee is organic, though roughly half are. There is much overlap in the fair trade certification process and the organic certification process. While the environmental standards of fair trade coffee are rigorous, organic standards go farther with environmental sustainability practices.

What Does Fair Trade Organic Mean?

Coffees with the fair trade and organic labels (FTO) give customers insight into the production process of a particular coffee.

Coffees bearing these certifications sell for a higher price, benefiting the growers, and the communities in which they live. This accounts for the higher price that consumers pay for FTO coffees.

Why Buy Fair Trade Organic Coffee?

If fair trade organic (FTO) coffee is more expensive, then why buy it? Most experts agree that any trace chemicals on non-organic coffees burn off during the roasting process, so the chemicals used in non-organic coffees don’t really affect the consumer. However, most people who buy FTO coffee have a bigger picture in mind than just their own health concerns.

The coffee industry is the second largest international commodity in the world (following oil). So, the impact of conscientious practices in this industry is enormous. FTO coffees raise the quality of life for individuals and whole communities, and they also promote safe environmental practices. While FTO coffees do come at a greater cost, many consumers feel that the human rights and environmental benefits of buying FTO coffees far outweigh the costs.

What is Organic Coffee?

Organic coffee is simply coffee that’s grown and processed in a natural way, without any artificial chemicals, such as pesticides and herbicides. Instead, organic coffee is grown with only natural fertilizers. Organic farming also focuses on the renewability and conservation of land and water resources. While the availability of organic coffee is a relatively new phenomenon, the practice of organic farming is as old as farming itself. And, organic farming practices both conserve the valuable resources of our earth and provide consumers with a natural product free of chemicals.

Organic Coffee Certification

In the United States, the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) sets standards and strictly regulates the organic food industry, including coffee. These standards regulate every inch of the process of organic coffee, from seed (non-GMO), to fertilizer (natural), to processing (separate from non-organic coffee). Moreover, certified organic products come from farms that are sustainable in all practices. Farms that comply with these higher standards are then able to sell their coffee at a higher price. Consequently, consumers pay a higher price to support the sustainable, environmentally friendly farming practices used in organic coffee production.

Why Should I Buy Organic Coffee?

While you can expect to pay a little more for organically grown green coffee beans, there are two main reasons why people shell out the extra cash: personal health choices and environmental sustainability. While most experts agree that the chemicals used in non-organic coffees burn off in the roasting process, consumers often feel differently. Many consumers prefer not to chance it, valuing the health benefits of an organic diet over the extra financial costs. The other main rationale for buying organic coffee is environmental. Some consumers choose to pay more for organic coffee due to concern for the environmental repercussions of non-organic farming. Whether it’s for personal health or environmental reasons (or both), the upward trend in the organic coffee market supports the growing willingness of Americans to pay more for organically grown coffee.

What Does Rain Forest Alliance Certified Mean?

The Rainforest Alliance (RFA) is an international organization committed to bringing about lasting change in the use and conservation of natural resources and the treatment of whole communities. The goal of the Rainforest Alliance is to unify businesses, farmers, consumers, and forest communities in the effort to create sustainable, equitable, environmentally conscious business practices for the good of the earth and people. Products, such as coffee, that bear the RFA label are produced in accordance with the high standards that uphold the lofty ideals of the Rainforest Alliance.

Why Should I Buy Rain Forest Alliance Coffee?

The RFA seal gives consumers confidence that their coffee purchase supports the integrity and environmental sustainability of the production of that specific coffee. Consumers who buy RFA coffees have a long-view of the power of their purchase. The long-term result of buying RFA certified coffee is the protection and “right use” of lands, including rainforests and other forests, supporting small sustainable farms and farmers, and increased stability in local coffee growing communities. Looking for the RFA seal is one simple way that you can support these ideals.

There is power in every dollar. When those with the power make decisions for change, the world is made better. The decision is yours. Is fair trade coffee worth it? We believe so!