Monday, November 1, 2010

Fair Trade Coffee

I thought I'd kick things off with some information about one of the more widely available and commonly known fair trade item - coffee.

We consume 20% of the world's coffee right here in the USA. Coffee is everywhere you turn - a cup on every desk and a shop on every corner. But few coffee consumers ever stop to learn about how their coffee is harvested and processed. There are about 25 million coffee workers in more than 50 countries around the world employed in the coffee growing and processing trade. The top five producer/exporter countries are (in order) Brazil, Columbia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Mexico.

Many coffee farm workers on conventional coffee plantations endure terrible sweatshop-esque conditions day in and day out, only to sell their beans for a price that is below the cost of production, thereby perpetuating a cycle of intense poverty.

A recent study of coffee plantations in Guatemala revealed several troubling facts. Over half of the coffee pickers surveyed did not receive minimum wage, many workers were forced to work overtime without compensation, and most were not receiving their legally-mandated employee benefits. Because of these common conditions, many coffee workers in Guatemala bring their children (as young as 6-8 years of age) to work with them in order to meet their quota.

Fair trade offers many improvements over traditional farming, including the following:
  • fair working conditions
  • a guaranteed minimum price as determined by the New York "C" market
  • coffee producers are guaranteed access to credit at regular international interest rates
  • relations between producers and roaster/buyers are based on long term contracts

On a trip to Guatemala earlier this year, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to tour a fair trade coffee farming operation facilitated by As Green As It Gets. You can read more about my family's amazing tour experience here. I have never liked coffee in the past, but Alberto's full city blend has converted me. (I still only drink it about once a week though, and only Alberto's!)

Fair trade coffee has become pretty mainstream, so you shouldn't have any trouble finding it locally - even if you are not blessed with a good natural foods store in your neighborhood, you can easily find fair trade coffee at Costco, Safeway, Fred Meyer, Kroger, Sam's Club, Target, Trader Joe's, and even WalMart. Just look for the fair trade label -

If you're an internet shopping junkie like me, or if you'd like to sample a wider variety of blends, I've put together a list of online sources for satisfying your coffee cravings...

You can even opt for fair trade while patronizing most any coffee house - here are some suggestions -

And finally, I will leave you with a 20 minute documentary about fair trade coffee - so brew a cup of your favorite blend (fair trade of course!) and get cozy on the couch!

For an extremely in-depth discussion of fair trade coffee, please visit Global Exchange. Much of the information in this post came from their site.

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