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What is Fair Trade Coffee

Updated on April 27, 2015

And Why Buy It?

All coffee should be fair trade coffee; you may be seeing an increase in coffees and teas at your local grocery store or supermarket that are fair trade products.

It is not unusual for these coffees and teas to be organic and all-natural, but that is not what makes them fair trade.

What exactly does this mean, and why should you choose these products for your home?

Image by DFID - UK Department for international development
Image by DFID - UK Department for international development

Background & Structure

On Agriculture & Farming

Agriculture and farming are not always the same thing; a majority of our food, including our coffee, comes from big corporations where food is more of a commodity than a natural product.

Those who farm on the small scale, such as family farmers, receive little profit for their work. Dairy farmers, for instance, see little profit even though their products are essential for milk, yogurt, ice cream, butter, and other foods.

This is because there is a middleman or corporation between the farmer and you.

Image by
Image by
Image by Blinded by the Bite! on Flickr
Image by Blinded by the Bite! on Flickr

Fair Trade Explained

Why is it called, 'fair trade'?

Fair trade is a model of business in which farmers and growers are paid a fair and livable wage for their products. Coffee, which was one of the first fair trade products, is purchased from the farmers for a fair, even generous, price.

Farmers who belong to a certified fair trade coop are guaranteed to receive a set premium for their coffee, and if the price of the coffee increases due to market fluctuations or other factors, the extra profits go to the farmers in the form of a per pound premium.

Think of that next time you are putting together a coffee gift basket, you're helping out more than the recipient of your gift!

Fair Trade Coffee - Why it Matters

Image by aflcio on Flickr
Image by aflcio on Flickr

Why Buy Fair Trade?

Reasons to Buy

Besides giving farmers a reasonable wage, fair trade seeks to create safer, healthier work environments for people in developing countries by creating labor regulations and other rules.

While there are still middlemen in this process, it does put the growers in more control of their product.

What do you think of fair trade? Do you drink it every day in your personalized mug or should we do away with it? Share your opinion below.

Weigh In - Share your thoughts...

Do you agree with fair trade?

Fair Trade Coffee

Image by NatalieMaynor on Flickr
Image by NatalieMaynor on Flickr

Farmer owned cooperative near Matagalpa

Image by william.neuheisel on Flickr
Image by william.neuheisel on Flickr

History & Origination

How it came to be

How did fair trade selling come to be? In 1988, coffee prices began decreasing because of the tremendous supply. The supply was larger than the demand; in the Netherlands, Fair Trade certification artificially raised the price of coffee so that growers could earn a livable wage.

Today, the Fair Trade Labeling Organization sets Fair Trade standards and certifies growers. While Fair Trade started with coffee, it soon expanded to include tea. Today, there are a variety of Fair Trade products including:

- Dried and fresh fruit.

- Cocoa.

- Sugar.

- Bananas.

- Honey.

- Cotton.

- Wine.

- Chocolate.

- Flowers.

- Gold.

- Artisan crafts, including jewelry, bags, and clothing.

El Salvador Coffee

Image by AlphaTangoBravo / Adam Baker on Flickr
Image by AlphaTangoBravo / Adam Baker on Flickr


Against Fair Trade

There are criticisms to the economic model of Fair Trade, particularly that it inflates the price of goods, leading more people to enter the market, and thus increasing the supply beyond the point that the price warrants.

Others argue that the wages earned by Fair Trade growers were not high enough above that of non-Fair Trade growers to warrant the expense.

Fair Trade Coffee - Infographic

Making it Work

Will you change your thinking?

Still, since 70 percent of the world's coffee is produced by small-scale farmers, any increase in the profit they see is beneficial. Fair Trade coffee ensures that farmers get $1.26 per pound (or more); that guarantee is like a subsidy, but it is also a way to ensure that the farmers get their fair share, or if not "fair," then at least livable.

Americans alone spend billions of dollars on coffee each year; Fair Trade helps the farmers that produce all that coffee to continue to live and work.

Next time you buy coffee, consider Fair Trade. It doesn't make all right with the world, but it sure is a step in the right direction.

Take the Poll

Do you buy fair trade coffee?

See results

Are You a Coffee Lover?

Then Read On...

To make it through all this fair trade coffee talk, you must be a real coffee lover. Dark roast, light roast, it doesn't matter; you're part of the millions of people who enjoy a nice cup of java. If you want to throw a coffee themed party, then look no further than these coffee favors and little pieces of coffee decor.

What guest wouldn't love a little coffee scoop favor, or coffee birth announcements? They're too cute to handle!

Comments - What are your thoughts on fair trade coffee?

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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Excellent lens. You have included all the facts about Fair Trade Coffee in one page! That's amazing. I started looking in this topic a few years ago because as a coffee lover, coming from a European country where there is no cultivation of coffee, I came upon this new description of coffee. Now I know exactly the meaning. Thanks for sharing:=)

    • squid-janices7 profile image


      6 years ago

      Great lens on such an important topic. I watched a documentary a while ago about farmers that aren't able to get fair trade prices or belong to a co-op. They are often the poorest of the poor in the world (living on less than $1 a day) while the big companies between us coffee drinkers and them (the growers) make TONS of money. It is simply ridiculous that we are drinking $5 cups of "gourmet" coffee, yet the growers live in poverty. Thanks for taking the time to shed light on this subject!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Very interesting! I wasn't sure what fair trade coffee was, but his explained it very well. Thanks!


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