What is this Fair Trade Coffee About?

Steve GSeptember 4th, 2007
By: Steve G

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Image copyright TransfairUSA.org

Thousands of people at this moment are enjoying their huge cups of coffee. On the other side of the world, businessmen making a huge profit off of beans that they produced are exploiting laborers who work hard to make those cups possible. The typical farmer makes about four cents for every dollar earned. Considering that they are the infrastructure upon which all else is established, it is disheartening knowing that they get compensated with about 4 percent of every dollar earned.

Before going into the concept of Fair Trade Coffee, let’s first look at the mitigating factors that led up to its inception. The consciousness of the social and ecological problems related to consumer goods began in the 1960’s and 1970’s. More ecological problems such as Three Mile Island and Chernobyl lead to higher levels of skepticism against the government and corporate America. People began to question the trust of corporations and doubted whether their duty to public policy was truly sincere. These issues laid the groundwork for what would help in nurturing the Fair Trade Movement.

Beginning in the 1970’s and 80’s natural foods started to show up in supermarkets. Slowly, eco-friendly alternatives started to become available. Exposes on sweatshop workers in third world countries prompted many people to question what they were buying. Incidents involving Nike, J.Crew, Tommy Hilfiger, Wal-Mart, Disney, and Kathie Lee Gifford forced people to examine their buying habits and the repercussions of these habits. Many incidents occurred, including one in which a boy ordered customized sneakers from Nike with the word “ sweatshop” under the logo. Nike refused to comply with his request because of the speculation of the company’s use of cheap labor in other parts of the world to help streamline their bottom dollar. With the origin and context of consumer goods in question, consumers began to sympathize to the laborers who were compensated for their tedious work with only a few cents a day. Slowly, the rally to help these people was beginning to amass. The concept of non-exploited workers paved the way for fair trade coffee.

Fair Trade coffee focuses on the exploitative working conditions of the coffee bean farmer. Its goal is to reconfigure the coffee value chain to put more of it into the hands of growers. It is the market driven model that redefines the dynamics of the trading system to achieve this goal. Typically, the chain goes as follows:

Exploitative middlemen are removed from the equation and farmers deal directly with importers in consuming countries. Power across the value chain is equalized as growers have access to better market information and credit on fairer terms. In a normal coffee trading system, coffee veers in a multiple directions with many intermediary stops that are not needed to reach the final destination of the drinker.

In many regions paying producers a fair price of their coffee means eliminating the middlemen, nicknamed “coyotes” in Central America for their predatorial practices toward coffee. In addition to guaranteeing a fair price for green coffee and engaging in long-term relationships, importers also agree to provide some partial financing. Importers also give feedback on coffee quality and best processing services. Worldwide Fair Trade sales in 2004 were $376 million and TransFair USA estimates that in 2004 farmers received $26 million in additional income.

There are many social benefits to supporting Fair Trade Coffee. Purchasing Fair Trade coffee helps to promote community growth for the farmers that develop education, health and a better overall way of life for these growers. Help to promote fair trade coffee to everyone you know and spread the word that fair trade coffee is the only way to go.

If you want to learn more about Fair Trade Coffee, check out your local library. Just kidding, here's a small list of some of the places that are involved with Fair Trade Coffee. If you wanted to get a glimpse into the struggle of Co-Operatives and their quest to simply get a reasonable price for their export, check out the Award-Winning documentary Black Gold.

A tired farmer shows his coffee cherries.
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