In recent decades, we have developed a growing awareness of where our food comes from and a concern for the welfare of the people across the world who provide it. This has led to the development of the concept of fair trade. Fair trade simply means that fair prices are paid to the producers of products in developing countries.
Fair trade coffee is coffee that has met the standards of production required by fair trade standards.
Many small coffee farmers are forced into a depressing cycle of poverty and debt because they do not receive enough money to cover their production costs. Coffee prices used to be regulated by the International Coffee Organization and went by regulations set by the International Coffee Agreement of 1962.
The agreement tried to prevent excess supply and dropping prices by limiting the amount of coffee traded between countries. The agreement changed several times between 1962 and 1988. Finally, the concept of fair trade certification was introduced in 1988 when there was a coffee crisis caused by an oversupply of coffee. Coffee growers could not receive enough money for their products to sustain them.
The idea behind the fair trade certification was to artificially raise prices of coffee so that growers would be able to turn a profit. Unfortunately, a new agreement could not be reached by 1989 and the 1983 agreement was extended without any determined quotas. This caused coffee prices to reach all time lows from 1990 to 1992, when a new agreement was reached.
During that time, growers struggled. Agreements in 2001 and 2007 were made with principles similar to fair trade: economic counseling for growers, research, and studying sustainability.
Different fair trade labels from around the world came to be, and in 1997 they jointly created Fairtrade International, which tries to create a better deal for growers and workers by setting fair trade standards and inspecting and certifying growers.
Why Is Fair Trade Important?
Slowly but surely, we are beginning to realize that the products we buy do not just magically appear in the store. People all over the world work hard to produce them and deserve to be able to live without the constant struggle of poverty and despair. Items that bear the fair trade logo ensure that the far-away growers and workers who produced them have been justly compensated.
Growers and workers who were living in debt and poverty see their wages increased. Fair trade organizations educate disadvantaged communities on how to use the free market system to their advantage. Growers are empowered to develop sustainable businesses to support their families.
They become positive influences on their communities. By buying fair trade coffee, you are helping to improve the lives of growers and workers around the world.
The fair trade standards extend beyond just fair pricing. They require that decisions are made democratically with transparency. Training must be done across a wide variety of areas, including workplace safety, financial management, non-discrimination, and freedom of association. Growers also take part in deciding how community development premiums can best be spent in their particular communities.
Social responsibility is another main focus for fair trade. Few of us were aware that agriculture workers in the coffee industry often toil in the equivalent of “sweatshops in the fields.” Fair trade works to improve those conditions. Child labor is prohibited. International Labor Conventions must be followed and health and safety measures must be implemented. Growers have guaranteed access to healthcare.
With fair trade products, you can know that no GMOs or toxic chemicals were used in production. There is a strong focus on taking care of the environment and reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Growers are educated on waste management, pest control, protection of soil and water, and being responsible stewards of the environment.
While the system of fair trade is not yet perfect, significant improvements have been made to the quality of life of growers and workers around the world. Hopefully, fair trade will continue to improve and be more widely implemented. In the meantime, the rich cup of fair trade coffee you are drinking could help a farmer build a sustainable business and escape poverty.