Fair Trade Coffee: Your Cup Of Responsibility

According to data from Square, the average cup of coffee costs $2.70 in America. A coffee picker in another country generally makes between $2 to $3 per day.

That means that the price you pay for one cup of coffee is an entire day’s worth of work for the farmer of that same coffee bean.

This discrepancy of international wealth has disturbed many people, who have since called for a change in the way the global economy deals with trade. Out of this need for a new sort of trading system came the Fair Trade label.

What Is Fair Trade?

Fair trade is a social movement that works to improve the 0verall conditions of farming and agriculture. Their goal is to help improve the lives of agricultural growers in developing countries while also promoting sustainable farming. The fair trade movement is based upon ethical, social, and environmental standards. Fair trade devotees have three core beliefs:

  1. Today’s international trade promotes the unequal distribution of wealth, especially between first-world and third-world countries.
  2. Consumers and producers should and can be in harmony.
  3. Buying products at a fair price is a more efficient way to promote sustainable development in both economic and environmental terms.

When you think of fair trade, think of the following words:

Equity            Sustainability           Dialogue        Transparency          Respect

Aside from the movement, Fair Trade USA is also a non-profit organization that works diligently to promote the above values. Fair Trade began in 1998 with Fair Trade Coffee, which labeled those coffee brands that were sourced ethically through Fair Trade approved growers. Since then, Fair Trade has expanded its certification labels to include other agricultural products like tea, chocolate, fruit, and spices.

Any item or company that meets Fair Trade’s standards can apply to get their brand and logo stamped on the outside of the package. This deems the product as Fair Trade approved, immediately signaling to the consumer that it is an ethical, sustainable, and equitable product. If you’re out grocery shopping, look for the Fair Trade Certified label. It has a light green circle surrounding the silhouette of a person and basket.

In order to obtain that certification, growers and producers must meet certain labor and environmental standards. Those plantations and farms that meet those standards (and pay a fee to Fair Trade) are called “fair trade cooperatives,” and they operate under and within certain certifications or inspections. These cooperatives are generally given an additional 10-30 cents per pound of coffee to be used for community development. This encourages growth within the community and breaks the current cycle of destitute-causing trade.

Is Fair Trade Good For Farmers and Land?

Social movements always sound good in theory—but you always want to ask: what do they succeed in practice?

Let’s take a look at a brand we all know: Starbucks. Did you know that 99% of Starbucks coffee is ethically sourced? Starbucks, in tandem with Conservation International, developed its own fair trade program called Coffee and Farmer Equity. They also have seven support centers worldwide and bought a farm in Costa Rica to serve as the global agronomy center. Additionally, they have dedicated $50 million to farmer financing alone. Starbucks paid on average $1.72 per pound of coffee to developing countries, as reported in Starbucks’ 2014 global responsibility report. You may complain about the price of your mocha frappuccino, but that little extra money goes to helping boost worldwide wealth equity.

Fair Trade says that $1.21 is a sustainable price for coffee today. Anything over $1.21 + $0.05 is considered a premium. Premium programs are used to directly influence the surrounding community of fair trade coffee growers. This in turn creates better living and health situations for workers and better sustainability practices for the farm; these together can continue to make the agriculture thrive and thus continuously better the progress on the farm—and the coffee quality.

It’s important to note that pricing is based on the international coffee price, which can quickly and drastically fluctuate depending on the external market.

However, despite this, there are still some problems with fair trade. Foundationally, there’s no current demand for fair trade coffee. Fair Trade cooperatives receive additional money per pound in order to operate appropriately and put money back into their communities; this money is taken directly from the pockets of the consumers.

In this way, coffee consumers are sticking to the non- Fair Trade because it’s cheaper and easy to find. Without a radical shift in sustainability thinking, Fair Trade will not be able to flourish. In fact, cooperatives only sell one-thirds of their output as fair trade because the demand simply does not exist yet. Other farmers don’t sell Fair Trade in general because the demand for fair trade coffee isn’t even enough to meet the cooperative fees.

That’s where you come in.

Why Should You Buy Fair Trade Coffee?

  1. For Ethical Reasons

When you buy coffee that is not fair trade or ethically sourced, you are giving non-verbal permission to allow injustices worldwide to continue. You are allowing workers to toil every day, making less money than you spend on a single cup of coffee that they help produce.

Coffee growers are deep in poverty, and the international trade system steadfastly holds down the poor for continuous gain of the wealthy. Those with power and money want to keep their power and money. Buying fair trade coffee helps remove coffee growers from the incessant cycle of immense poverty that is fostered by international trade.

  1. For “Green” Reasons

Coffee growers can barely get by on $3 a day. They certainly don’t have enough money to ensure their growing processes are sustainable, cost-efficient, or technological. Fair trade gives farmers the additional capital to create organic and sustainable processes that are good for the farm, the environment, and the world.

  1. For Personal Wellness Reasons

This extra money put back into the farm also means better tasting coffee for you! Streamlined, quality technology helps farms ensure they are delivering the best product to you—using the best possible resources. Some coffee companies have started investing in Fair Trade not just for the “Certified” label but because it’s better for business overall. The more you pay for coffee, the better quality coffee you’ll get—and the better quality coffee they’ll be able to grow in the future.

Suddenly your below-average cup of coffee in the morning will pale in comparison to the delicious taste of a strong, robust fair trade coffee bean.  Plus, fair trade coffee uses sustainable processes, often including organic or non-pesticide farming. This means the coffee is also better for your health along with your taste buds!

Where Can You Purchase Fair Trade Coffee?

Local farmers’ markets are a great place to look for ethically sourced and Fair Trade coffee. Local coffee sellers often use Fair Trade as a competitive advantage. They’ll pair with coffee cooperatives to deliver ethical, delicious, safe coffee to their consumers. You can also often find Fair Trade products at your local health food store. They’ll even be in your average grocery store if you look for the green label! If you like to frequent coffee shops, ask if they offer any ethically sourced or Fair Trade coffee. They’ll be able to point you in the direction of the best ethical cup of brew—and they’ll be impressed by your vast knowledge of socially-conscious coffee.


The next time you think about buying a cheap cup of coffee you don’t even enjoy the taste of, think instead of Fair Trade coffee. “Fair trade” is more than just a brand or a social movement. When you buy fair trade, you support people. You support the people that toil for your cup of Joe. You support communities, growth, infrastructure, and the planet. Fair trade promotes sustainable practices and returns equity back into international trade for an overall healthier balance of global wealth.

Fair Trade Coffee: Your Cup Of Responsibility
was last modified: February 26th, 2019 by Brian Peterson

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