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Fair Trade Coffee

Fair trade coffee is a coffee that is bought directly from the coffee growers, at a price higher than the standard coffee price. The coffee growers form a cooperative, which ensures that they get a minimum pre-set price for their coffee, and if market price is higher, then the cooperatives decide how the extra money is to be spent, and the growers usually get a per pound premium. Besides this, they also get a premium for organic fair trade coffee. Fair trade certification has picked up in the coffee market particularly in the last 10 years, and is now available at most places selling coffee.

Fair Trade Coffee History

Before fair trade coffee pricing became prevalent, coffee prices were governed by regulations set by the International Coffee Organization, on the basis of an agreement made in the year 1962. The agreement was modified and prices updated from time to time, depending upon changing dynamics of the coffee market. The agreement slowly evolved and in the 21st century, it addressed issues like increasing coffee consumption, improving standard of living of the coffee growers, initiating research for specialized versions of coffee, and studying factors related to sustainability, similar to the principles of fair trade.

The concept of fair trade certification was born in Netherlands in the year 1988 as a counter measure to the drop in coffee prices across the world. It was meant to raise coffee prices to protect the interests of coffee growers. The Fair Trade Labeling Organization was set up in 1997, as an amalgamation of four similar labeling organizations.

Organic Fair Trade Coffee

The fair trade coffee is grown by organic methods and techniques of agriculture, which omit use of artificial pesticides and fertilizers, and hence eliminate any harmful effects related to these on consumption. Fair trade groups often encourage growers to transition from standard coffee to organic coffee of high quality standards.

Main Features of Fair Trade Certification

Here is a list of the basic factors which decide the fair trade coffee certification regulations-

  • Elimination of Middlemen: Fair trade aims at purchase by importers from the coffee grower groups, reducing middlemen as much as possible.
  • Improving worker conditions: Fair wages and good working conditions are an important point on the agenda of fair trade groups.
  • Transparency and Democracy: The cooperatives function with transparency, and it is the farmers who have a say in the policies.
  • Community Development: Premiums earned by fair trade groups are invested in social upliftment of workers, and investment in education and healthcare for them, as well as other activities which add value to the society at large. Examples include prevention of poppy cultivation for production of drugs in Columbia by the COSURCA coffee cooperative, and improvement in quality and productivity by CECOVASA cooperative of Peru.

Fair Trade Certification Trivia

  • Critics of Fair Trade Certification believe that the certification tends to push up retail prices by a considerable amount, even though the actual growers are not given as high a price.
  • Fair trade activists consider the selling of fair trade coffee by large chains like Mac Donalds and Starbucks as detrimental to the interests of the smaller fair-trade based businesses.