Mary Campbell, Pinellas County Extension Director, Urban Sustainability Agent
One of our favorite beverages – coffee – can provide another opportunity to support sustainability or go green. “Fair trade” is an organized and market-based approach to empowering small farmers and promoting sustainability.
Coffee was the first commodity in the United States for which there is an independent monitor that guarantees that producers are paid a fair wage for their product, work in decent conditions and follow sustainable farming methods. More and more people care about the conditions of the people who produce the products they buy and that the product has fewer environmental impacts.
Fair trade produce remains a small percentage of world trade, but it is growing. Only 3.3 percent of coffee sold in the United States in 2006 was certified fair trade, but that was more than eight times the level in 2001, according to TransFair USA. Like consumer awareness of organic products a decade ago, fair trade awareness is growing. In 2006, 27 percent of Americans said they were aware of the certification; up from 12 percent in 2004, according to a study by the New-York based National Coffee Association.
TransFair USA, a nonprofit organization, is one of twenty members of Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International (FLO), and the only third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the United States.
Big chains are marketing fair trade coffee to varying degrees. Espresso served at the 5,400 Dunkin’ Donuts stores in the United States is fair trade. McDonald’s stores in New England sell only fair trade coffee. In 2006, Starbucks bought 50 percent more fair trade coffee than in 2005.
There is no governmental standard for fair trade certification, the same situation as with “organic” until a few years ago. Some fair trade produce also carries the organic label. Currently over 60%of Fair Trade Certified coffee in the U.S. is also certified organic. One important difference is the focus of the labels: organic refers to how food is cultivated, while fair trade is primarily concerned with the condition of the farmer and his laborers.
Transfair Fair Trade Coffee http://www.transfairusa.org/