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Is Fair Trade Coffee Really Fair?

The US consumes about 20% of the world's coffee production. This makes it a huge market and the demand of that market is one of the things that keeps coffee prices fairly high. One might think that part of that price gets back to the people who actually grow the coffee, but traditionally it hasn't. Only a tiny bit of the price we pay for coffee makes it back to the producers, but it's not enough to support production costs, much less a family.

The tiny, almost trivial, amount that makes it back to the workers forces them into a cycle of poverty and debt. The Fair Trade movement was developed to try to change that. Among other things, to be Fair Trade certified means that the growers will get at least .26 per pound for their coffee, much better than the typical 40-60 cents.

Using determination and persistance the Fair Trade movement has convinced over 100 companies, including Starbucks and Peets, to give you the opportunity to buy fair trade coffee. More and more companies are also joining this rapidly growing movement.

In addition to giving the grower a fair price, the movement is also pushing for organic farming methods, the idea being that organic farming is easier on the environment, fewer pesticides and chemicals are used, and it is also cheaper for the farmer. This makes it a win-win situation with the farmer incurring lower costs, getting more money, and not contaminating the land.

So what, exactly, is Fair Trade Certified Coffee? Basically it's the coffee sold by a company, such as Starbucks, that has entered into an agreement with a licensing company to purchase Fair Trade Certified coffee. Transfair USA is the only Fair Trade certification company in the US, but there are 17 of these companies worldwide.

Certification guarantees that the Fair Trade requirements are met. These requirements include that a minimum price is paid to the growers for the coffee, the buyer assists the grower with access to credit (to pay for harvesting,) and an incentive for growers and marketers to enter into longer term contracts. Long term contracts provide stability for the farmer, since he doesn't have to worry about where he will sell his coffee crop.

Before Fair Trade the minimum price for the coffee might be as low as 20 cents a pound. The ability to make enough money to live on, and raise a family on, means a great deal to the growers. It also gives them a greater incentive to be productive, since they know the extra work is meaningful.

In addition to the certifications for the buyers there is a similar system for the growers. The Fairtrade Labeling Organization (FLO) maintains a producers registry. In order to be a part of this registry the producers (farmers) must meet several criteria. They have to be poor, they cannot make use of hired labor, and they have to be democratically organized into small farmer associations. This ensures that the benefits of the Fair Trade movement go to the people who need it the most.

The Fair Trade movement is powered by a small, but growing, and very energetic group of people. Using grassroots activism, not government regulation, they are seeing encouraging and growing results among the various coffee companies. As mentioned above, over 100 companies are participating to a greater or lesser degree. There are a number of companies that are already 100% Fair Trade and more that are transitioning over from the traditional trade methods.

To learn more about Fair Trade Coffee, which companies are involved, and to see if you want to get involved, just go to your favorite search engine and type in "fair trade coffee."

About the Author: Are you a big coffee fan? Drop on by the bmall Coffee House and check out what we have to say about various coffees and the machines that roast it, grind it, and make that cup of Joe.

2006 by Greg Mee and Permission to use this articles is granted as long as the links remain live.

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