How Much Do You Know About Your Fair Trade Coffee?

Follow the coffee bean trail as it travels from the farmer to your cup.

Following Fair Trade: Even the most locally minded eaters tend to consume some foods and beverages that only grow in distant regions—usually the hot and tropical ones—and many of those areas are also home to some of the world’s poorest populations. To ensure people at the origin of global supply chains receive just treatment, adequate pay, and access to health, education and a good quality of life, the Fair Trade standard was created. Fair Trade regulations often have positive environmental consequences, but at the root protects people—facilitating farming practices and trade relationships that empower farmers and their communities.

While it’s fairly common to see the Fair Trade label on coffee due thanks to pureveyors like Starbucks, Fair Trade coffee makes up only four percent of all coffee sold in the U.S. There are numerous labels found on coffee today—organic, shade-grown, even bird-friendly. None of these are required by Fair Trade coffee but they often go hand-in-hand, with farmers offered an incentive to transition their farms to organic production. Today nearly 50 percent of fair trade coffee imports are also organic, and all fair trade certified coffee is free of GMOs as well as a select list of chemical pesticides.


Fair Trade farmers only pick coffee berries that are fully ripe—what they call the “red cherries”—which ensures that they are sending the highest quality into the supply chain and specialty coffee market. Limiting their yield to what’s perfectly ripe requires picking by hand, requiring several passes around the tree for every viable berry to be plucked. This is time-consuming and laborious, and can’t be done by a machine. So if you’re paying a little extra to drink a Fair Trade cup, those additional cents are going in part to compensation for the physical work of the workers.

In conventional coffee farming, the berries are often mechanically harvested or stripped from the tree in a single pass, which pulls berries at various stages of ripeness, along with twigs and other agricultural trimmings that ultimately get separated from the berries and discarded. Unripe berries that come off during this process also get tossed, so these sweeping harvest methods must be done when most of the coffee is as ripe as possible, to maximize the yield.


Most coffee-growing regions use a cash-based economy. For farmers acting independently in the free market, the need for cash between harvests often forces them to sell beans for pennies on the dollar to a buyer—often referred to as a coyote—who will then turn around and sell it at a higher price at market.

The Fair Trade standard sets a floor price for coffee that dictates the minimum a farmer must be paid for their crop if the end product is to be labeled Fair Trade. If the market price of coffee is higher than the floor price, the farmers gets the market price, but if the market price falls, the farmer is still entitled to the floor price, establishing protection against steep market fluctuations.

Fair Trade farmers are also organized into cooperatives, allowing them access to credit on the international market. Traditionally, coffee farmers are paid just once per year at harvest time, so the ability to gain credit means they can sustain their families more consistently throughout the year.


Where the product crosses over from its origin country into its destination country, there can be a significant power imbalance on the two sides of a sale negotiation. Shipping operators don't always act in the interest of their source, and might sell products outside of Fair Trade parameters, breaking a link in the fair supply chain.

One key aspect of the fair trade standard is traceability. From the farm to the retail shelf, there’s a paper trail at each stage of the supply chain. Importers and exporters are included in this chain, so shipping companies are also held to the expectation of fair prices being paid to sellers at the product origin.

When the beans reach roasters, brands, manufacturers or retailers, they pay a community development premium that goes back to the farmer cooperative and gets invested in social benefit initiatives including community infrastructure improvements, education programs, and local health care. The members of the coop vote to decide on how this premium gets invested, to ensure it’s the most appropriate use of funds for that community.

Images 1 and 2 from Fair Trade USA

Image 3 (cc) from Flickr user sarahemcc

This post is in partnership with Ben & Jerry's


This article was produced in partnership with the United Nations to launch the biggest-ever global conversation on the role of cooperation in building the future we want.

When half of the world's population doesn't share the same opportunity or rights as the other half, the whole world suffers. Like a bird whose wings require equal strength to fly, humanity will never soar to its full potential until we achieve gender equality.

That's why the United Nations made one of its Sustainable Development Goals to "Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls." That goal includes providing women and girls equal access to education and health care, as well as addressing gender-based discrimination and violence against women and girls.

While there is still much work to be done, history shows us that we are capable of making big leaps forward on this issue. Check out some of the milestones humanity has already reached on the path to true equality.

Historic Leaps Toward Gender Equality

1848 The Seneca Falls Convention in New York, organized by Elizabeth Lady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, is the first U.S. women's convention to discuss the oppression of women in sociopolitical, economic, and religious life.

1893 New Zealand becomes the first self-governing nation to grant national voting rights to women.

1903 Marie Curie becomes the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. She is also the only woman to win multiple Nobel Prizes, for Physics in 1903 and Chemistry in 1911.

1920 The 19th Amendment is passed in the U.S. giving women the right to vote in all 50 U.S. states.

1973 The U.S. Open becomes the first major sports tournament of its kind to offer equal pay to women, after tennis star Billie Jean King threatened to boycott.

1975 The first World Conference on Women is held in Mexico, where a 10-year World Plan of Action for the Advancement of Women is formed. The first International Women's Day is commemorated by the UN in the same year.

1979 The UN General Assembly adopts the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), also known as the "Women's Bill of Rights." It is the most comprehensive international document protecting the rights of women, and the second most ratified UN human rights treaty after the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

1980 Vigdis Finnbogadottir of Iceland becomes the first woman to be elected head of state in a national election.

1993 The UN General Assembly adopts the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, the first international instrument to explicitly define forms of violence against women and lay out a framework for global action.

2010 The UN General Assembly creates the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) to speed progress on meeting the needs of women and girls around the world.

2018 The UN and European Union join forces on the Spotlight Initiative, a global, multi-year initiative focused on eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls.

As the UN celebrates its 75th anniversary, it is redoubling its commitment to reach all 17 Sustainable Development Goals, including gender equality. But it will take action and effort from everyone to ensure that women and girls are free from discrimination and violence. Learn more about what is being done to address gender equality and see how you can get involved here.

And join the global conversation about the role of international cooperation in building the future by taking the UN75 survey here.

Let's make sure we all have a say in the future we want to see.

via WFMZ / YouTube

John Perez was acquitted on Friday, February 21, for charges stemming from an altercation with Allentown, Pennsylvania police that was caught on video.

Footage from September 2018 shows an officer pushing Perez to the ground. After Perez got to his feet, multiple officers kicked and punched him in an attempt to get him back on the ground.

Perez claims he was responding to insults hurled at him by the officers. The police say that Perez was picking a fight. The altercation left Perez with a broken nose, scrapes, swelling, and bruises from his hips to his shoulder.

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