The Fair Trade movement helps to limit exploitation and ensures that farmers are paid a fair price for their crops. A fairly young movement, begun in 1997, twenty nations—17 European countries plus the United States, Canada and Japan—formed Fair Trade Labeling Organizations International (FLO). (The list is now up to 23 countries total.) Each nation has its own Fair Trade association; in the United States, the association is called TransFair USA, and it issues the seal at the right for products it certifies (the European Union has its own seal, as do Japan and Canada).
Coffee (and other commodities, including cacao) certified as Fair Trade must comply with a number of economic, social and environmental conditions. The middleman, who under the traditional model paid little for the beans and sold them at high profit, is eliminated. Under Fair Trade:
Coffee growers, generally small farmers, own and work their farms (as opposed to working under low wages for large corporate entities).
They must belong to cooperatives that are run on a democratic basis.
The importers must pay a price that covers production costs, plus a “social premium” that can help improve the farmers’ working and living conditions. The price is set by FLO (currently $1.25 per pound, and if the coffee is organic there is a $.20 premium per pound).
Producers must pursue ecological goals, conserving natural resources and limiting chemical use.
According to a recent estimate, Fair Trade coffee farmers are earning an annual income of $2,000, as opposed to the $500 they would otherwise have earned. More than 80% of Fair Trade coffee sold in the United States is also Certified Organic.