What is Fair Trade Coffee?

Malcolm Tatum

Fair trade coffee is coffee that is produced and sold directly to the consumer, without the utilization of several layers of organizations between the producer and the consumer. The main focus of a fair trade coffee arrangement is to ensure that the producers, who often function with a small production capability, receive an equitable price for the coffee they produce. Often, the farmers who engage in a fair trade arrangement organize in cooperatives that are capable of handling the tasks of distribution and marketing.

Some companies sell and serve fair trade coffee purchased directly from small-scale growers.
Some companies sell and serve fair trade coffee purchased directly from small-scale growers.

One of the main attractions of fair trade coffee to the buying public is the knowledge that the producers receive enough return on their production to have a decent life, based on the local economy. For persons who are concerned about the low wages associated with sweatshops and other types of organized labor in various countries around the world, choosing to purchase fair trade coffee simply makes sense. The practice of buying only fair trade products is one way to use consumer dollars to ensure that the small farmers producing the coffee beans see more of the actual purchase price.

At the same time, the local cooperatives that help to market and distribute the coffee also tend to use part of the return to invest in the local community. This benefits the farmers in several ways. Two of the most important benefits include competent medical attention and facilities, and the building of education facilities that help to ensure children and adults have reasonable access to educational opportunities within their own communities.

Environmentally conscious people are often attracted to fair trade coffee, as the small farmers in most of the cooperatives use organic material to nourish the soil and protect the coffee plants as the beans develop. The absence of harsh chemicals from the growing process is claimed by some to produce a superior flavor, and also tends to be viewed as being kinder to the environment in general.

Fair trade products are generally ground coffee, although it has become increasingly popular to purchase fair trade coffee beans. In the United States, many smaller grocers, locally owned coffee shops, and even some faith communities make it possible to purchase trade coffee. Often, this is seen as part of their commitment to protect the environment, support fair trade for the small growers, and in general encourage the distribution of coffee products that are produced without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

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