What are Fair Trade Coffee Beans?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 23 September 2019
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Fair trade coffee beans are coffee beans that are grown, gathered, and sold to exporting companies under methods that are intended to be humane toward workers and friendly toward the environment. These types of beans are typically indicated by a seal or similar image on the coffee package that indicates the beans used to make coffee were fair trade coffee beans. A number of different retailers sell fair trade coffee beans, and numerous coffee shops have begun selling coffee made from fair trade beans to promote fair treatment for those who work to produce the coffee they sell.

The primary purpose of certification for fair trade coffee beans is to ensure that the farmers who produced the coffee are paid an appropriate wage to continue to survive and pay for their needs. Over the past few decades, the price of coffee sold throughout regions such as South America has steadily declined. The lower rates are paid to the farmers who grow and gather the coffee, often people who own and run fairly small farms. These rates are often not sufficient to allow the farmers to actually survive, and the situation has created a cycle of debt and poverty from which many of these farmers find themselves unable to escape.


Though the price paid by exporters and coffee buyers has drastically fallen, the cost for bags or cups of coffee served to customers has not significantly decreased. The massive difference between these two numbers has typically been kept by the companies selling the coffee as profit. Free trade coffee beans are beans that are guaranteed to have been paid for at a decent level that better ensures that the growers are able to survive on what they are being paid. This helps prevent situations involving unsafe child labor and sloppy practices leading to injury, and promotes future generations of successful farmers.

Free trade coffee beans are certified by an independent, non-governmental agency that intends to ensure coffee farmers are compensated fairly for their work. The fair trade certification also is used to raise funds to build schools in areas that need them, and help farmers develop environmentally friendly practices. Anyone interested in purchasing fair trade coffee beans can look for the certification seal on the package or displayed at various shops that serve coffee. The beans can be found at a number of retailers from producers like Green Mountain®, and Seattle’s Best®, and coffee brewed from such beans is now offered by major coffee shops like Starbucks®.


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