Fair Trade Certified™ Coffee
The Fair Trade Certified™ seal represents a wide range of products today, but their founding mission was to increase income for coffee farmers. We have partnered with Fair Trade USA for nearly 15 years and continue to increase our offerings of Fair Trade Certified coffee every year. We think it’s an important step towards helping our farmers maintain an equitable and sustainable business, and is one of many solutions to getting farmers fair prices for their coffee. Here we will break down the Fair Trade Certification, how farmers become certified, the benefits of the certification, how to work with farmers without it, and the reason we treat each individual farmer uniquely, no matter what their certifications are.
The History of Fair Trade
In 1998, Paul Rice founded Fair Trade USA after spending time on a coffee farm in Nicaragua a few years prior. His time working closely with coffee and the people who grow it made him aware of the reality of the coffee market. At that time, news publications were covering the stark contrast between the price of a latte at a coffee shop to the incredibly low price coffee farmers were receiving for their beans. At that time, coffee was popping up in news publications, showing how coffee farmers are suffering and can’t afford to live off of the price they are selling coffee for while coffee shops were starting to show up and charge $3 for a latte. Rice saw the opportunity to help farmers empower their own lives by getting paid a fair price. Just over 20 years later, five percent of all coffee (nearly 170 millions pounds) is Fair Trade Certified. Five percent may not sound like a lot, but it’s making a big impact.
How Farmers Become Certified
Fair Trade works with various auditors that they vet and train on how to certify farms and co-ops. Auditors use an extensive 200-point checklist that assesses the areas that impact social, economic, and environmental criteria. They look for things like no signs of child or forced labor, access to basic facilities, making sure workers are being paid a minimum wage, as well as things like integrated pest management that ensures certain chemicals are not used for pest control. It’s important that farms and co-ops are treating their people fairly before receiving the Fair Trade premium for their coffee. Some farmers are already practicing by Fair Trade standards, and the certification process can go as quickly as a few months. For other farms that struggle to meet criteria, Fair Trade will work with them to help change their practices and work towards the certification which can take a year or more.
What’s In It For The Farmer
Once a farmer is approved to sell Fair Trade Certified coffee, they receive a premium for that coffee, which can be invested in social, environmental, and/or economic development projects for their community and business. This gives farmers the power to reinvest in their businesses. Reinvestment often results in increased coffee quality and subsequently, a higher price for their product. The certification is a great way to help farmers market their coffee in a new way and access to a whole new audience and buyer. While the Fair Trade Certification is a great starting point for many farmers and co-ops, it’s not the only way to create a sustainable business. When sourcing from a new farm, we first focus on the quality of the coffee to add a quality premium in addition to the Fair Trade price. This helps create a long-term incentive for farmers to focus on all aspects of the farm and increase the quality in your cup of coffee.
Farmers Who Are Not Certified
Almost half of our coffee is Fair Trade Certified, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t paying a fair price to the rest of our farmers. When we find a farm or co-op we want to work with but isn’t certified, we perform our own audit to ensure the farm practices and quality of the coffee are up to our standards. It’s incredibly important to us that we partner with farmers who adhere to good farming practices, have no child or forced labor, and pay their employees a minimum wage. Paying a premium for Fair Trade coffee is only part of our process for determining a fair price. We also look at the cost of production for each farmer or co-op we work with. Because we source coffee from all over the world, what might be a fair price in some parts of the world is not enough in others. That’s why we treat each relationship uniquely, and won’t turn down a great coffee if it isn’t certified.
On the flip side, we come across many farmers who offer a wide range of certifications. We source from groups who offer some coffee that is Certified Organic, some of it is Fair Trade Certified, and some Bird Friendly® Certified. Farmers recognize that there is a wide range of demand and they aren’t selling all of their coffee to one importer or roaster. Often, there isn’t enough demand to sell an entire harvest as Fair Trade. Diversifying your product to align with the demands of your buyers is truly the best way to create a sustainable business. If you invest all of your resources in one area and one buyer and that buyer goes out of business, a farmer could also go out of business. Which is why we look at the Fair Trade Certification as one piece to the puzzle of paying fair prices for coffee.
When We Introduced Fair Trade Coffee
We first introduced Fair Trade Certified Coffee into our lineup in 2007. We recognized that our consumers were becoming interested and passionate about where their dollar goes, and offering Fair Trade coffee is a great way to give consumers a product they are wanting while giving farmers a new way to diversify their coffee. In 2019, 40% of the coffee we sourced was Fair Trade Certified. As we continue to add more and more certified coffees to our lineup, what remains at the core of our decision to buy from a farmer and how to determine the price, is whether or not it will benefit that unique partnership. When you buy Allegro Coffee, no matter the certification on the bag, you’re supporting a fair and sustainable partnership between the roaster and the farmer.
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