All About Fair Trade Coffee


Many times, coffee shops or roasters will talk about their coffee being Fair Trade. This term is very meaningful to the coffee buyer, and often, meaningful to the customer. Fair Trade means that the coffee buyer is conscientious of the conditions in which the coffee was grown. In this article, you will learn more about what this term signifies and why it is so important to coffee buyers, roasters, brewers and even drinkers.

Fair Trade Certified

In recent years, there have been trends in society to start selecting products that are as more humane toward workers and the environment. Consumers tend to gravitate toward products that have fair work practices and pay laborers a decent wage while having as little impact on the environment as possible when they have the option of buying it.

Fair Trade certification developed as a need for a third party to certify business’s claims that their products were made in a fair work environment using environmentally sustainable practices. The certification is controlled by an international group called the Fairtrade Labeling Organization (FLO). The United States branch is called Transfair USA.

When your business makes the decision to buy coffee that is Fair Trade Certified, you are buying more than just a bean. You are supporting a farm or co-op that has made the decision that they want to treat employees with respect, pay them fairly, involve them in monetary decisions and inform them of purchases made by the farm. The farm has also chosen to practice sustainable farming, rather than make a quick buck with the aid of chemicals. These practices are all very important and by buying this coffee, you are saying that you want to continue these practices.

What It Means to be Fair Trade Certified

Farms or co-ops that meet the conditions to become Fair Trade Certified have to meet several requirements before they can get the seal of approval.

  • Fair labor conditions. Employees of Fair Trade farms work in a safe environment, free from hazardous conditions and are paid a fair living wage. Any sort of abuse of workers from denying appropriate breaks or overworking employees results in the farm being denied certification. Child labor is also strictly prohibited.
  • Environmental sustainability. Farms or co-ops that are Fair Trade Certified are never allowed to use harmful pesticides on their products, harmful to either farmers or to the environment. The focus on the environment is to ensure that the land is properly taken care of so that it can be bountiful for years to come. Companies that take shortcuts to produce coffee beans more efficiently using chemicals will eventually damage the land they are working on and it will become unusable for future farmers.
  • Fair price. Farms that are democratically organized and are Fair Trade Certified are guaranteed a minimum floor price for their product to prevent them from being taken advantage of by large companies wishing to buy their product. These same farms are paid an additional premium if they are growing products that are certified organic. Farmers can also obtain credit from a bank based on the harvest they anticipate having in the coming season.
  • Community development. Fair Trade Certification ensures that the farm members invest their profits into the community that helps grow and harvest the coffee beans. This can be anything from scholarships, organic certification to specific projects, such as building a town library.
  • Direct trade. Co-ops or farms belonging to a Fair Trade organization do business with importers as often as possible to cut out the middle man. This pushes the farms to develop their business in a manner that makes it competitive in the global marketplace.
  • Transparent organization. Fair Trade organizations encourage the certified farm to be completely transparent when it comes to how the profits are being spent. Certification requires the funds to be distributed democratically within the community.

Beware of Copycats

As with many great organizations that aspire to make the world a better place, there are inevitably buyers and growers that create their own certification. Most companies that claim their products were made using fair trade practices are being honest, but there are those unscrupulous companies that would use the term to make a quick buck  While this does not necessarily mean that the farms the roaster or buyer uses are using dubious work practices, they are not certified by a third party. These “certifications” are essentially the roaster’s promise that they are using farms that practice fair trade. The danger of relying on these certifications is that no one is actually policing the standards that the buyer sets down other than the buyer themselves.

For more information on Fair Trade Certified companies, visit
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