Fair Trade coffee: Java with a jolt of social justice

Imagine an innovation that could improve the lives of over 1 million farmers and farm workers in over 50 developing countries throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America. Envision these farmers and workers being able to lift themselves out of poverty with the ability to compete in the global market with their produce and goods. Sounds too good to be true, right? Wrong.

Fair Trade certification is a tool used in international trade that enables this to occur; as a result farms and communities drastically improve in both their lifestyles and environmental protection. Fair Trade has a few basic and fundamental principles that it abides by which allow for fair prices, direct trade, fair labor conditions, democratic organizations, community development and environmental sustainability.

With fair prices farmer groups are assured an absolute minimum price for their products as well as an additional bonus if the products are certified organic goods. In addition to ensuring the farmers make a reasonable income from their produce, there are strict rules about adhering to moral labor practices. Child labor is firmly banned; the work setting is safe and laborers enjoy living wages (which means above the federal or state minimum wage).

One important and notable aspect of fair trade is that the need for middlemen is eliminated – importers buy directly from the fair trade producer and no one else. This is an excellent opportunity for organizations and cooperatives to actually become competitive players in the vast global economy. From the fair prices that farmers receive, they are able to put money into their local communities and purchase necessary items like trucks or computers to manage their businesses. They can also concentrate their energy on programs to advance their farms with training and organic certification.

Finally, through the Fair Trade certification absolutely no genetically modified organisms are used in farming, and there is very limited use of agrochemicals that harm the environment. Right now, over 60 percent of Fair Trade certified coffee in the United States is certified organic. Sustainable methods prevail with improved soil fertility, protection of the farmers’ health as well as the consumers’ and preservation for the intricate ecosystems that provide the biodiversity we all enjoy.

Just recently, the president of a small farmer association, Juanita Baltodano, visited the College and spoke about her community of Talamanca, Costa Rica. Fair Trade and organic certification is a top priority of the farmers in the Talamanca region, and Baltodano’s association works to improve the quality of life and food security for its member families. The co-op has an 80 percent indigenous membership and is 38 percent female. Baltodano is incredibly inspiring as a woman in such an important position, and is dedicated to ensuring the protection of both her community and the land on which she lives. I think her visit has made me realize that there is so much more to Fair Trade certification; I now can put a face to the label.

You can find Fair Trade certified agricultural products in coffee, tea and herbs, cocoa and chocolate, fresh fruit, sugar, rice and spices in the United States. Quite conveniently, there is fair trade coffee right on campus! Fair Grounds in the Brower Student Center offers a selection of only Fair Trade certified Green Mountain coffee, while the Library Café offers Café Estima, a Fair Trade certified Starbucks brand, as one of its four daily brewed coffees. With every cup of fair trade coffee you purchase you have made a conscious decision to support the preservation of life and the environment. I encourage everyone to buy fair trade products, since it is a win-win situation for all parties, from you the consumer to the actual coffee bean cultivation process.

Information from – fairtradeusa.org