Fair trade begs you to ask questions: Who made or grew this product? Who or what was affected by the production process? Fair traders are required to consider the social, economic and environmental impact of their actions. The result is a system of trade based on respect for worker's rights and the environment. It is dedicated to helping reverse the environmental degradation and growing inequities that have been a result of the growth in world trade as we now know it. According to the Fair Trade Federation there are seven principles to fair trade: fair wages, cooperative workplaces, consumer education, environmental sustainability, financial and technical support, respect for cultural identity, and public accountability.
Fairly traded coffee benefits many- from farmers in producer countries, to consumers, to the environment, to all of us by the benefits achieved through fair trade practices. As a system of trade based on respect for worker's rights and the environment, fair trade can help reverse the environmental degradation and growing inequities that have been a result of the growth in world trade as we now know it.
By taking the simple step of buying only fairly traded coffee, you send a signal to others that this is the best form of trade. More importantly, your purchase directly benefits the poor farmers and their families while making a positive environmental impact.
It is a simple choice, and a small step that has so many benefits and one that sends a signal to others to get involved and make a difference. This is one decision that you can know has direct results on many people. Won't you choose to have a clean conscience when you take your next sip of coffee?
Fair trade connects producers and consumers in more equitable, more meaningful and more sustainable ways. Fair Trade is based on seven principles as quoted by the Fair Trade Federation (FTF), the largest association of fair trade organizations.
Fair Wages - Paying fair wages does not necessarily mean that products cost the consumer more. Since Fair Trade Organizations bypass exploitative middlemen and work directly with producers, they are able to cut costs and return a greater percentage of the retail price to the producers.
Cooperative Workplaces - Fair Trade Organizations work primarily with small businesses, worker owned and democratically run cooperatives and associations that bring significant benefits to workers and their communities.
Consumer Education - Fair Trade Organizations educate consumers about the importance of purchasing fairly traded products which support living wages and healthy working conditions.
Environmental Sustainability - Fair Trade Organizations encourage producers to engage in environmentally friendly practices which manage and use local resources sustainably.
Financial and Technical Support - Small-scale farmers and artisans in the developing world lack access to affordable financing, impeding their profitability. FTF members that buy products directly from producers often provide financial assistance either through direct loans, prepayment or by linking producers with sources of financing.
Respect for Cultural Identity - Fair Trade Organizations encourage the production and development of products based on producers' cultural traditions adapted for Western markets.
Public Accountability - FTF members' finances, management policies, and business practices are open to the public and monitoring by the Fair Trade Federation.
When you sit back with your favorite cup of java, do you ever consider the process that went into bringing it to you? The crop to cup process of coffee is a fascinating one that has many implications that you may never think of. Take a moment to investigate some of those issues deeper. Did you ever think that your choice of coffee could have drastic effects on the environment, economic and social justice systems of this world? Did you ever realize that our daily consumption habits could help raise a family out of poverty, add years of life to a farmer, help educate children and build infrastructure in disadvantaged communities? Well it can! Read on.
The Farmer - Fair trade increases annual incomes of small farmers. Fair trade helps put in place tools for self-sufficiency. Fair trade assists small farmers to stay out of high interest debt. Fair Trade helps build infrastructure in the farmer's community.
The Consumer - Fair trade lets consumers have a clear conscience about their purchases. Fair trade lets consumers assist and empower others with their buying power. Fair trade lets consumers be part of a social justice movement through a simple action. Fair trade allows consumers to intiate a chain of responses that will positively impact the lives of poor coffee farmers and their families.
The Environment - Small farmers use organic methods, which are more environmentally friendly and sustainable Small farmers disperse their plants throughout a region, a more environmentally friendly method. Small farmers plant shade grown coffee which is key to protecting certain species of birds. The existence of small farmers helps prevent the clear-cutting of larger estates.
"Before, life was very hard for us, mainly because we could never get a decent price for our coffee. Now we have our own expert co-op and we sell to the Fair Trade market. We have bought mules to carry the heavy coffee sacks down the mountainside, instead of using our backs. Fair Trade gives us a fair price and access to credit. It also gives us dignity. We are treated as equals."
-Santiage Rivera, Coffee farmer (Somoto, Nicaragua) Courtesy of Transfair USA
Perhaps the most tangible benefits of fair trade are seen in the changes in the lives of the coffee farmers and their families. Fair trade helps to give the farmers economic independence and empowers them through the formation of cooperatives.
Before cooperatives in coffee farming the small farmers were forced to sell their harvests to local middlemen ("coyotes") who frequently give as little as $0.30 for a pound of coffee that sells in the United States for over $8.00. The small farmers were caught in a cycle as they lacked access to credit, marketing and know how, so year after year they are forced to sell to the coyotes. The farmers found themselves year after year struggling to meet basic needs of food, housing, healthcare and education, frequently these needs would go unmet.
With fair trade coffee the cycle is broken as the small farmers organize into cooperatives and sell their coffee for a "fair price" which they are guaranteed. As a result of these cooperatives farmers find themselves empowered and able to build economic independence. The cooperatives improve access to technical and credit assistance, giving the farmers the know how they need to be more independent. In addition the cooperatives help build infrastructure, increase production and improve the standard of living for the farmers (some have more than doubled their annual incomes - according to Transfair USA). The added revenue streams also help build schools, provide more access to healthcare and better transportation.
The Rodriquez' - An example of this change can be seen the in lives of Miguel and Laura Rodriguez, members of PRODECOOP (who produce our Nicaragua coffee). The couple estimates that over the past five years they have more than doubled their income as a result of Fair Trade. Fair Trade has helped them keep their daughter Rosa Maria (age 11) in school long past the age where should would have to start working in the fields (Transfair USA).
Fair Trade revenues help build schools, healthcare centers, new communications systems, credit programs, technical training programs, and better transportation. All of these improvements raise the standard of living of the whole community, not just those directly involved with fair trade. These improvements also increase production and help assure financial stability and self-sufficiency.
According to Transfair USA more than 555,000 farmers and their families benefit from coffee sales through the Fair Trade network of over 300 farmer cooperatives. Clearly Fair Trade is having a positive impact on communities throughout the world. Each time you chose to drink Fair Trade coffee or buy Fair Trade Products you are contributing to that progress and helping individuals and communities throughout the world.
Union de Comunidades Indigenas de la Region del Istmo (UCIRI), Oaxaco, Mexico - Revenues from this co-op helped create the region's only public bus line; a hardware and farm supply center; healthcare services; cooperative corn mills; an agricultural extension and training program; accounting training; and the only secondary school in the region. The cooperative members' annual incomes have nearly doubled through selling within the Fair Trade Network.
Promotora de Desarollo Cooperativo de Las Segovias (PRODECOOP), Esteli, Nicaragua - Fair Trade revenue has assisted in the construction of schools and healthcare centers; training in administration; legal matters and organizational issues. From sales to the fair trade market, PRODECOOP will generate over $600,000 in premiums for the membership this year alone. This is used to pay bank debt, invest in farm improvements, improve nutrition and avoid the loss of land due to crushing debt service.
The next time you drink your coffee think about the communities that help produce your coffee. Think about how your choice of fair trade coffee helps build up those communities and the individuals within the communities. Remember you can change the world, one great cup of coffee at a time!