There is a lot of buzz around Fair Trade Certified Organic coffee right now. But what exactly is Fair Trade Certified coffee? What does it take to get fair trade certification? How does it affect the common coffee drinker? Should we even care? Let’s find out!
Fair Trade Certified Organic Coffee
What do you think of when you think of Fair Trade Certified coffee? It is advertised as sustainable for the the planet lucrative for coffee farmers, especially small farms and no child labor.
By definition, Fair Trade organizations create trading partnerships that are based on dialogue, that seek greater equity in international trade. These partnerships contribute to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to coffee bean farmers.
What does that mean? In a nutshell, to be considered fair trade, a fixed price is agreed upon, which is higher than the world price by about 20 cents to 1.50, depending on what kind of coffee it is. They are paying for a specific standard of production and investing in the beans they are buying. Investing in workers, machinery, anything that will improve/increase production, thus delivering a higher quality product. The goal is to match supply with demand and help small farmers gain more access to the market.
This agreement was originally drafted in the 1960’s, then renegotiated in 1976 due to increasing coffee prices and then again in 1984 imposing stricter import/export requirements. The Fair Trade Certification came about in 1988 when coffee supply was greater than demand. Can you imagine? Too much coffee?
The problem is, of course, regulation. The quality standards that are required are rarely checked and enforced. The investments can be a cash investment to the seller, or an agreed upon trade between two people. There is no way to track the investments to ensure that they are using the capital for business improvement.
Fair Trade Organic Coffee-is it worth the price?
Under the premise above, it makes it difficult to determine if the extra dollars you are spending are being used as expected. It’s a nice idea and it would be great to help the small farms that bring us this delicious drink, but are the small farmers actually benefiting, or is it all going to the corporate partners? It is very possible that it is nothing more than an excellent marketing campaign.
It was started with good intentions, however with the lack of regulation and decreased demand, most Fair Trade farmers are now actually taking a loss. Some Fair Trade coffee is actually sold without the label, which means you could actually be drinking “Fair Trade” coffee and not even know it.
If you are interested in helping or making a statement with the coffee you drink, it is important to do your research. Find out where the extra money is actually going, are you paying for improvement for the farmers and the planet? Or are you paying for the executives’ yacht? Are the Fair Trade standards enforced and inspected regularly to ensure that it is actually Fair Trade as intended? Just make sure you are properly informed before you invest in a cause.
Does Fair Trade mean organic?
No. Absolutely not! Sometimes organic doesn’t even mean organic. What does it take to be considered organic? 1). No synthetic fertilizers, or pesticides. 2). There needs to be a sufficient buffer from the closest conventional farm. 3). A sustainable crop rotation plan is in place to prevent erosion, soil depletion and natural pest control. Fair trade coffee was designed to help the small farmer, but most small farmers cannot afford organic fertilizers.
The Organic Food Production Act of 1990 focuses on the production after the harvest, so how are the beans handled during the production process. The regulations are not strict, as a matter of fact the National Organic Standards Board states “organic labels are not statements regarding healthiness, nutritional value, or overall safety of consuming such products”.
Should I buy Fair Trade Certified Coffee?
If you are purchasing it because you like the taste of the coffee, go for it! If you are purchasing it because you believe that it is helping people and the planet, do your research! Find out if the extra money you are spending is being used as you expect. You could be spending the extra money to help the small farmer plunge deeper into poverty, and helping the executive increase wealth. Or you could just be buying a great marketing campaign!
As with any charity or “cause” don’t just go on blind faith. Research the company, the source farm, the financial statements, whatever your reason for buying, find out if it fits your standards and make an informed decision. It is pretty easy to print a logo on a bag of coffee. It is just a logo or does it truly encompass that claim?