Buying Ethically Sourced Coffee? Here’s What You Should Know

Disclaimer: I did do research for this blog post and discovered more about Fair Trade coffee and whether or not it’s impactful to coffee farmers. I do want to expand on my research and write more about it in the future but for now, this article’s purpose to get people thinking about who is benefitting from their coffee purchases. 

Oh, coffee. One of the few things I’m allowed to be addicted to and not have anyone considered. I’ve been sipping on this beverage since I was 13 and my hometown is big on coffee culture. With the popularity of this beverage, coffee being the second most exported good in the world, next to oil, coffee does have a dark side in its productions. This is the reason coffee drinkers are looking for coffee bags with the Fair Trade label, but is buying coffee with the Fair Trade logo enough? Before sipping your next cup of coffee, here some things to think about:

How Does a Company Receive the Fair Trade Logo?

If a company chooses to label their coffee Fair Trade, the company pays a fee to a Fair Trade associates (e.g. Fair Trade USA, World Fair Trade Organization, Fairtrade International). A yearly check-in is done to confirm that the company is upholding the Fair Trade Principles. These principles include treating employees with respect, providing a certain livable wage, and caring for the environment. Fair Trade coffee companies will pay $0.20 cents more per pound than the standard open market price.

Are Coffee Farmers Making Much More From Fair Trade?

It really depends. I discovered Fair Trade coffee may not be the best option every time. From my research, a coffee farmer will sell their coffee per pound to different markets. Depending on the quality of the batch, they may sell a low-quality batch of coffee to the Fair Trade market and the better quality batch to the open market if they’ll pay more than the Fair Trade company. This results in the farmer making the best choice for themselves, however, it gives Fair Trade certificated coffee a bad impression.

Is Fair Trade Coffee Always The Better Option?

Again it depends on how you look at better. Because a farmer is able to sell low quality coffee at a bit of a higher price because of Fair Trade, it’s better for the farmer. Buying high quality and Direct Trade is the better options.  With Direct Trade, companies are looking to buy the good quality coffee and farmers benefit from that by building a good relationship with the company and making more which will help them to provide shelter, food, and education for their family.

Is Organic Coffee Ethical?

About 80% of Fair Trade coffee is organic because farmers are not using chemical pesticides and fertilizers,  which is better for the environment (one of the principles of Fair Trade). However, focusing on organic does not equal ethical. Some farmers are organic because they’re not able to afford the chemicals non-organic farmers use and they may not be selling their coffee through an ethical channel.

How Do You Know My Coffee Is Ethically Sources?

The best thing you can do is research. There are a number of coffee companies that do work closely with their farmers and provide a livable wage for them, their families, and are known for having good coffee. Usually visiting a coffee companies website, you’ll know they care for their farmers by talking about them on their homepage or having a section about their ethics.

Some Of My Favorite Ethically Sourced Coffee: 

  • Portland Roaster
  • Marigold Coffee
  • Farmers First (did an interview with the co-founder a few months ago).
  • Equal Exchange
  • Happy Cup (also provides employment to adults with developmental disabilities in Portland Oregon)

Coffee was one of the first things I was aware of when becoming more caution with my purchases. The Fair Trade logo is one good way to start thinking about where your coffee comes from, who is growing it, and who is benefitting from your purchases. In a time pinch, I understand grabbing any coffee with the Fair Trade label may be your only option. Fair Trade certificated coffee does support respectful work ethics but knowing there are better options, doing some research will help you discover that sipping on a good quality coffee is b a small scale farmer.