While your morning cup’s contents might not percolate up to your everyday conversations, they do sit heavy on the thoughts of Coffee Farmers, Importers, and Roasters. For us, the origin of each coffee is a unique story worth telling in the finest of detail. Today we want to talk about Fair Trade coffee.
Fair Trade is a popular topic among many coffee circles, especially in the sourcing and importing world. In the broader sense, Fair Trade describes the process of paying an increased premium for a product to the benefit of the ones who create it. This is common in the coffee industry and also exists for other goods such as mangoes, sugar, and even soccer balls. It’s often the case where large corporations source green coffee (read green as unroasted) from small farms at unfair margins. In doing so, they are preying on the disposition of small farms that lack the clout to do anything different. Small farmers often find themselves helpless to sell their coffee to anyone other than these corporations, which created the need for Fair Trade.
The Fair Trade concept began in the 1980's amidst a period of widespread globalization in market economies. More goods were moving from place to place, such as from third-world products to first-world markets. This process was (and still is) cheaper than sourcing the same product at a local market. It wasn’t new by any means, but it had seen more growth than ever throughout history.
Somewhere in the middle of all that, the Fair Trade movement was born, seeking to get living wages paid for independent coffee farmers. Fair Trade could, in theory, apply to larger corporations as well (e.g. large coffee farms). But in this climate, the public noticed how these corporations would take advantage of small farms in third-world countries. Needless to say, they were exempt from Fair Trade certification.
Farms that earned the Fair Trade certification became eligible to join co-ops who were part of large multinational organizations. These co-ops provided services for the farms, including soil analysis, education, and most important: a market for the farms to sell their coffee. These co-ops would also take part in social action in the sponsored farm’s country, building roads, hospitals, schools, and creating sources of fresh water. The criteria to earn fair trade certification is as follows:
- Fair pay for farmers;
- Farming practices employed are environmentally sustainable;
- Direct trading with the farmers in place of a middleman; and
- Acceptable living conditions for the workers there.
So as long as a farm meets these criteria, they’re eligible for a Fair Trade label which 1) earns them a more reasonable living wage, 2) keeps them accountable for better practices, and 3) helps their coffee sell stateside with the added Fair Trade incentive, because who doesn’t want to support farmers? So if you see a Fair Trade label on your coffee, you can rest assured you’re doing the best you can with your buck to help out small farmers.
Next you might ask, “so if there’s not a Fair Trade label, was it sourced unethically?” The short answer is no, but with all things, it’s complicated. We mentioned earlier that Fair Trade exists for one group: small farms who can’t reach the crowded market, currently saturated by corporate coffee. However, there exists many buying and farming strategies to create a custom form of “fair trade”. This is often ideal since it bypasses the certification process and any middleman whatsoever. One of these strategies is Direct Trade. A process in which the buyer purchases from the farm itself—skipping any hoopla in between. This empowers small farms by letting them set their price. Which, if the quality is there (and thus, practices are good), is already much higher than the market standard. Another strategy that farmers can use happens when the product is so good, it punctures the market by the coffee quality alone. These coffees are often the ones specialty shops are buying. Since the quality and practice of these coffees is already ideal, they don’t need the Fair Trade label to help them out.
Unfortunately, both of these coffees (non-Fair Trade, but still ethically sourced) sit on shelves without a label or name tag. They’re often a much higher quality (because of their elevated methods which drive a higher price), but other than that, there’s no clear-cut way to point them out. It’s often up to the consumer (you) to inquire, or the seller (us) to spotlight them. But in short, just because there’s no Fair Trade label does not mean the coffee wasn’t sourced ethically. Here at Lucky Goat, we ensure each coffee we source is up to our standards, and the standards which provide farmers with the wages they need for their farms and families. We can’t say the same for large companies selling enormous amounts of questionable coffee.
At Lucky Goat, each coffee we source is picked with everyone in mind. We buy specialty coffees we know you’ll love while making sure those coffees are being bought at a price that’s more than fair for the farmers involved. It’s not an easy task, but it’s done so carefully, often requiring us to ask questions so you don’t have to. We ensure each of our coffees are ethically sourced through a number of strategies. The first strategy is the topic of this post, and the easiest to point out—Fair Trade labeling. These coffees would include our Guatemala Huehuetenango, and our Ethiopia Yirgacheffe, Wochema—the current coffee of the month. Both coffees are Certified Organic and Fair Trade, evident not only in their labeling but also in their taste. Another strategy we employ to ensure everyone wins, is buying coffee that’s just really, really, good. It might seem like a cop-out to say this includes everything else, but it’s the truth. This strategy is actually our baseline. We search for coffees that are already high quality, and by nature, never sourced unethically.
The biggest take-away we hope you gather is that there’s a lot of good work in the coffee community. There’s also a lot of work to be done which is why it’s important for all of us to invest our time and money into coffees that are sourced well, that employ high quality practices of ethics and sustainability. Corporate coffee isn’t always easy to identify, so make sure you stay curious, vigilant, and above all, caffeinated. If you have any questions regarding the Fair Trade process, feel free to read more here, email us, or come in to chat over the cup you might be curious about. Until then, we hope you have a charming and splendid time.