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As responsible consumers, fair trade products ensure money goes towards companies that use ethical business practices, green technology and safe working conditions.  The fair trade logo supposedly signals that coffee is produced with certain standards in mind.  In the coffee industry, the fair trade movement seeks to benefit coffee growers in impoverished areas by donating some of the proceeds to community projects.  Fair trade producers work directly with importers and buyers.  By cutting out the middleman, the fair trade program offers growers a higher price for their beans.  Companies that use fair trade products have to pay a licensing fee to companies like Equal Exchange or Fair Trade USA.  Some of these proceeds go back to the plantation community.

However, Fair Trade USA has implemented some changes to the program that have raised eyebrows.  Equal Exchange, the country’s oldest fair trade company, withdrew support for Fair Trade USA in late 2012 after the USA branch cut ties with parent company Fairtrade International.

Fair Trade USA also stated it would give certification to large plantations as well as small, democratically run cooperatives. This creates a problem because large plantations are already turning profits, while many smaller farms are struggling to survive. The fair trade movement sought to support the cooperatives that were often exploited or overlooked by the big coffee companies. Giving larger plantations accreditation and trade rights eliminates the advantage fair trade was providing for the smaller plantations.

Paul Rice, chief executive of Fair Trade USA says the move was meant to promote the fair trade movement by increasing the supply. Large plantations can grow more beans to meet the demand for fair trade coffee. This allows big-chain retailers like Wal-Mart, Starbucks, and Whole Foods Market to sell fair trade coffee in their stores.

– Stephanie Lamm

Sources: The Nation, New York Times, Fair Trade USA