I recently talked about why I have chosen not to drink pod coffee, so today I thought I’d continue on the coffee theme and talk about how to choose fair trade coffee! Coffee is one of the most highly sought after crops in the world (for good reason!), but not all coffee is created equally.
Coffee is most commonly grown in humid, tropical locations, particularly in developing countries. Despite being such an important crop, for the farmers it can often be an incredibly labour intensive crop to grow with little financial return. For many developing nations coffee production also represents a huge part of their economy, including in countries like Brazil, Indonesia, Colombia, Mexico and Vietnam, so it’s incredibly important they are getting a fair price for all their work.
Coffee prices have always been subject to volatility with changing supply and demand conditions resulting in huge price variations from year to year. I was recommended reading nn International Coffee Agreement that was set up in the 1960s which set limits on the amount of coffee that could be traded between countries, helping to control the supply side and therefore eliminating price crashes and spikes. By the late 1980s a fair trade certification was introduced as part of this agreement, and by 1997 one organisation, Fairtrade International, was established to set fairtrade standards and oversee certified growers.
So, what does fair trade mean?
Fair trade certification means a minimum price has been set which the grower must be paid for their coffee, as well as a ‘fair trade premium’ which is a fixed price investment into the local community, used to improve the environmental, social and economic conditions of the area. This provides a safety net against the changing world prices of coffee, as well as ensuring long term improvements for the local community, both of which are incredibly important benefits.
Much of the coffee is grown by small-scale farmers, so a fair trade certification helps to protect them from being exploited by the large coffee companies which dominate the market. At one point coffee growers were getting as little as 3 cents for every $3 cup of coffee sold, which was far below the level required to cover costs. With fair trade certification the farmers are ensured a sustainable income, which is obviously vitally important.
How to choose fair trade coffee at home
Thankfully fairtrade is fairly well regulated, so if you see a fair trade label on a product then it’s a fairly safe bet that it is meeting the necessary standards. The Fairtrade Australia & New Zealand Website lists coffee products that have been certified, and you can even search for nearby stockists to make finding them even easier.
Anything sold through the Oxfam shop is also guaranteed to be fair trade (and you can usually get Oxfam coffee at major supermarkets), so there’s plenty of choice out there. Lots of cafes are ensuring they use fair trade coffee too, but if they’re not advertising this fact then it’s best to ask. Consumer pressure goes a long way in changing behaviour, that’s for sure.