Fair Trade and Coffee

Coffee remains one of the most popular drinks worldwide, and people are ever on the hunt for quality coffee beans. In recent years, concerns for social equity have affected the growing and purchase of coffee. This has led to the production and sale of fair-trade coffee. Because it promises to improve the lives of those who grow coffee, particularly individuals in developing countries, buying fair-trade products is one way to help make the world a more just place.

Fair trade has a long informal history. As early as the 1800s, for example, there were movements to refuse buying products that were dependent on slave labor in order to express concern for slaves and the desire for slavery's abolition in the West. The fair-trade movement really took off, however, following World War II. A variety of religious groups, including the Mennonite Central Committee, developed networks where people could acquire products made by those living under certain conditions and earning a certain wage. Early fair-trade products were sewn goods and other hand-crafted items.

As a result of the desire to get away from Western imperialism, fair trade caught on in the 1960s with various protest groups. By the 1980s, fair trade was no longer limited to hand-crafted products. Agricultural commodities became an increasingly important group of items sold through fair trade. This was especially true of coffee, but fair-trade associations for other things, such as bananas, also began to pop up.

Fair trade represents a number of guiding principles. Chiefly, fair-trade associations that source and distribute products are concerned with economically disadvantaged people, particularly those who live in developing countries. The goal of fair trade is to ensure a livable wage for people who ordinarily would live in extreme poverty. Fair-trade groups work to achieve working conditions that are non-discriminatory and that pay a just wage. Part of this process involves eliminating child labor.

A variety of different groups around the world provide certification that coffee and other products have actually been grown and distributed through fair trade. Many of these are independent, non-governmental organizations. There has been concern that the processes do not have enough oversight, and there have been movements to improve the certification process. Worldwide fair-trade federations have stepped in to help with these goals, and the results have been mixed. Still, if one can find authentic fair-trade goods, it is wise to purchase them. Thankfully, a number of labeling initiatives have arisen to help meet the needs of accurately identifying fair-trade items.

In addition to coffee, other products that are important to fair trade include fruits such as bananas and other tropical foodstuffs. Other commodities that have fair-trade associations are cocoa, flowers, gold, and tea. Because many of these resources have traditionally been produced under harsh conditions, finding fair-trade sources for these products is a great way for individual consumers to improve the lives of people in other places. In fact, buying fair-trade helps promote the economic standing of women in particular. Fortunately, there are many online and offline resources to help people find fair-trade products.

As far as the future of fair trade, there are many signs that more and more people will search out fair-trade goods. Fair-trade coffee has achieved widespread market penetration, and many institutions are serving it to their constituents. Many colleges, for example, have committed themselves to providing as many fair-trade food products as possible in their dining halls. Such efforts spread fair-trade awareness and should help to increase the demand for fair-trade coffee and other goods in the future.

For more information on fair trade coffee and other fair-trade products, please consult the following: