Is Fair Trade Really Fair?

Screen shot 2013-07-12 at 11.48.24 AMYou’re standing around in the grocery store trying to figure out what coffee to purchase. It’s not longer a simple question of regular or decaf, or even just brand loyalty. Now you’re choosing between things like roasts and flavors and organic and fair trade. I know that a pumpkin spice blend will probably taste like autumn in a cup, but does fair trade coffee taste like freedom?

What exactly is fair trade? According to Fair Trade USA, the largest coffee fair trade certifier, it’s a “global movement to alleviate poverty in farming communities around the world in ways that are socially and environmentally sustainable.” Sounds pretty great – paying a few extra bucks out of your pocket to help protect the planet, build businesses, fight poverty and empower farmers. But remember, you’re also paying for that “green image” and the fancy seal on your coffee bag.

Let me be clear, I am not against fair trade; in fact, compared to most environmentalists, I’m a pretty avid supporter of it. But I support the foundation of the movement, the roots, not necessarily what it has turned in to.

Here are the facts.

Fair trade has helped thousands of farmers go from loosing money in coffee production, to actually being able to turn a profit. That being said, it doesn’t really allow them to make much of a profit. The “C Trade” requires growers make $1.40 a pound, whether their coffee sells for $4 a pound…or $14. Fair trade levels the playing field, but it also squanders opportunity for growth. You might ask, “But where does all the money go?” There’s growers, roasters, distributers, etc. And don’t forget that you’re paying for sustainable growing standards as well. There’s a lot at play, to say the least.

So is fair trade really fair? That’s not really a conclusion I can draw for you. Fair trade has its fair share of pros and cons and it’s up to you to take a stance. Just know that with every purchase of coffee you are pledging your loyalty – the only question is to whom.

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