Why We Care About Fair Trade Coffee

Staff Writer
Shinji WATANABE -flickr.com

Going in to buy a coffee at Starbucks might be the best way to promote fair trade across the country.

When you enter a Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, or even your local coffee shop, it's unlikely that you're thinking about where your coffee came from and whether or not those who harvested those coffee beans were fairly compensated for their work. But we’re suggesting that you should be.

The concept of fair trade coffee and the problems surrounding it has become more prominent in the media in recent months. In March, The New York Times reported that "fair trade’s partnerships with major coffee companies — like Starbucks and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, which together imported 84.6 million pounds of fair trade certified coffee in 2011 — are central to keeping fair trade farmers in business." Organizations like Fair Trade USA, a group that helps farmers in developing countries, from Mexico to Indonesia, build sustainable businesses that positively influence their communities, make this practice possible. 

Companies like Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Starbucks, Equal Exchange, Pura Vida Coffee, Larry's Beans, and Katz Coffee are all participants in the fair trade movement. Starbucks reported that 93 percent of their coffee was ethically sourced in 2012, including 90 percent through Coffee and Farmer Equality Practices. So the coffee that we’re drinking at our local Starbucks isn’t just delicious; it actually comes from farmers and workers who are accurately compensated for the intensive work they do. 

But why should we care? Besides being a pretty big topic in the world of coffee lovers, fair trade is actually helping to develop Third World countries that provide the United States with products such as coffee. The Fair Trade USA website states, "We’ve enabled a democratic system where each community determines how their funds are used." These practices are healthy not only for the farmers, but also the consumers. We’re waiting to hear what the downside of fair trade is, but there doesn’t seem to be one yet. Yet, as fair trade develops popularity, criticisms do come in. Longtime fair traders are pulling the ethics card on some companies, pointing out certain companies are partnering with fair trade farmers for reasons like commerce and convenience, not ethics, and this violates the principles upon which fair trade was founded. There have also been reports of disgruntled farmers, and bureaucratic rigidity. 

Padma Lakshmi's Fall Coffee Recipe11 Diseases Coffee Can Prevent VIDEO: The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf Takes On the East Coast10 Signs Your Starbucks Crush Is Actually in Love with You12 More Drinks on Starbucks' 'Secret Menu'

While no system is perfect, it is fair to say that there are valid concerns amongst the fair trade community. But that should certainly not deter you from purchasing fair trade coffee. At a base level, fair trade coffee is the simplest way that you can give back to a community. It might not be logical, as heading to Starbucks for your pumpkin spiced latte doesn't exactly seem like giving back, but the higher the consumer demand is for fair trade coffee, the more companies will catch onto the trend.