Fair Trade Coffee Facts

Not sure where your coffee was produced or why it matters? Here's what you need to know about fair trade coffee and the fair trade coffee movement.

Fair Trade Coffee Facts
The Fair Trade Coffee movement is part of a larger movement that promotes improved pay and working conditions for those who produce certain products -- in this case, coffee growers and harvesters. It is all too common for the profits from gourmet coffee to go to brokers and middlemen while the workers live in poverty. Fair Trade certification is an attempt to develop standards that allow farmers of coffee and many other crops to share in the profits and to improve their working conditions.
Origins of Fair Trade Coffee
According to the PBS program "Frontline," the Fair Trade movement started in the Netherlands in 1988. The price of coffee had dropped sharply and farmers were earning less than the costs of growing and harvesting coffee. However, there was an earlier movement in the 1940s that was initiated by church groups.
Fair Trade Certification
In order to become certified by TransFair USA, the organization that oversees the Fair Trade movement in the U.S., a coffee purchaser must pledge to pay a minimum price per pound ($1.26 at this writing), provide credit in the form of loans to farmers, and provide technical assistance including help with transitioning to organic farming.
Without Fair Trade
Small family farms often do not receive enough money to pay for the costs of production. Young children work in the fields with their parents in order to meet quotas. That is not only dangerous, but prevents children from receiving an education that would allow them to gain better jobs.
According to TransFair USA, Fair Trade Certified products are offered at more than 20,000 retailers across the U.S. In the U.K., £493 million ($803 million in U.S. dollars) worth of products were sold under the FAIRTRADE Mark.
There are several different organizations which provide Free Trade Certification. Some of those include Fairtrade Foundation, Fair Trade Federation of North America, TransFair USA, and the Institute for Marketecology (IMO).
Fair Trade vs. Organic
Fair Trade Coffee is not necessarily organic. The Fair Trade label refers to labor and trade standards, not how the coffee has been grown. However, according to the Organic Trade Association, 78 percent of the Fair Trade coffee sold in the U.S. was certified as organic in 2008.
Fair Trade vs Bird Friendly
Bird Friendly certification is provided by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. It requires that coffee be grown under a diverse canopy that provides a habitat for birds.
The Fair Trade Coffee Company
Foodnavigator USA: Whole Foods signs up new fairtrade certifier
Frontline WORLD: The History of Coffee
TransFair USA: Fair Trade History