What is Fair Trade Coffee?

Every cup of coffee around the world has a story behind it, telling you where the coffee is from, how it was grown, who roasted it, and what kind of flavors you should expect. Coffee lovers from all walks of life learn about these stories and eventually find their favorite ones! 

Some people love the classics, like what kind of roast their beans are and what company roasted them.  Others look for their favorite flavor profile or country of origin when looking for coffee.  However, there is a new coffee “story” out there that more and more people are searching for: coffee sustainability. 

As the world is accepting the reality of our ongoing climate crisis, sustainability has become a highly talked about concept.  In the world of coffee, it’s no different, as sustainable coffee is increasingly becoming the norm for big and small companies alike. 

That being said, there are many methods and ideologies that go into making coffee sustainable, and it’s pretty hard to fit them all into one article. While we could talk for hours about the practice of shade-grown coffee or making the supply chain more eco-friendly, it can get overwhelming in a hurry. 

Instead, we’ll focus on one of the ways that people have tried to make coffee sustainable; fair trade systems. As one of the industry’s more well-known and recognizable methods, we wanted to shed light on what Fair Trade really means for you and for your coffee. Without further ado, pour a hot cup of joe and settle in as we explore the world of Fair Trade certified coffee. 

The Basics of Fair Trade

Chances are, you’ve probably heard of the phrase “fair trade,” but you’re not entirely sure what it means, and that’s ok! In essence, a fairtrade system ensures that coffee is grown sustainably and using ethical labor standards. It is part of a global system headed by the group Fairtrade International that was designed to combat exploitation within the coffee industry supply chain. 

In particular, the standards set in place by Fairtrade International are mainly meant to protect those at the bottom of the supply chain, the coffee farmers and workers. Globally, small-scale growers are some of the most marginalized and exploited groups of people, so by focusing on efforts to level the playing field, Fairtrade International helps to create better prices and working conditions for everyone, from Latin America to Africa and every coffee country in between!

The Fair Trade system is an excellent example of the factors that go into coffee sustainability. While environmental concerns and sustainable ecological practices are essential, coffee cannot be sustainable without addressing the ethical and financial facets of the industry. 

So, How Does It Work?

When it was initially developed, the Fair Trade system’s biggest priority was creating a sort of “safety net” for coffee prices. Historically, the price of coffee beans has been (and continues to be) extremely volatile. Larger corporations and businesses are able to weather this volatility thanks to their money and resources, while smaller-scale operations suffer. 

To address that, Fairtrade International sets a minimum coffee price that doesn’t change with the market. For instance, if the global price of coffee suddenly dropped, the “Fairtrade Minimum Price” would remain unchanged.  This has helped protect millions of farmers and workers, who previously would have been at the mercy of global coffee prices. 

Additionally, farmers receive a “Fairtrade” Premium, which is an extra amount of money meant for the farmer’s businesses and community. This premium is on top of the coffee selling prices and helps improve the production and quality of the coffee that is grown. 

These protections are vital for the coffee industry, as small farms and growers are estimated to produce around 70-80% of the world’s coffee! Without the Fair Trade movement, millions of coffee suppliers worldwide would likely struggle to make a living and survive. 

How Do You Join?

In order to receive the “Fairtrade” mark, you and your company have to meet certain specifications all along the supply chain. The specifications otherwise referred to as the Fairtrade Standards, are monitored throughout the production process. They cover all aspects of coffee sustainability, from ethical working conditions to the sustainable development of land and farms. 

Though there are many specifications for certification, we’ll touch on the significant aspects:

  • Human rights Protections - Following the guidelines of the International Labour Organization, all “Fairtrade” products must be made without any child or slave labor. While this may seem logical to most, it is still a necessary protection in some places. Similarly, they must follow the United Nations charter of human rights, which further guarantees the safety of all employees.
  • Workplace Safety and Unions - All Fair Trade coffee brands must guarantee a safe workplace up and down the supply chain and allow for employees to unionize. 
  • Prices and Conservation - Fair Trade products will always be sold at a fair price, which is defined as a price that covers the cost of production while facilitating social development. Finally, anything produced must be in accordance with the protection and conservation of the environment. 

If you are interested in exploring these standards more, you can find them on the Fairtrade International website

Coffee for All

Thanks to the Fair Trade movement, sustainability in the coffee industry is catching on.  Other methods, such as direct trade, and sustainability partnerships, are working along similar lines to provide a better industry for everyone. 

For our own part, Amora has partnered with Project Waterfall, an organization that works to create water sustainability systems all around the world. Through this project, our contributions have helped to bring clean water to more than 10,000 people in coffee-growing areas of the world, with plans to grow that number! 

We want to bring great coffee to as many people as possible while maintaining a sustainable and beneficial industry for everyone involved. Learn more about the ins and outs of coffee on our blog, or try a subscription today!

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