Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Make it Fair

Today's scene:

I walk into the coffee shop at my local supermarket. Peet's Coffee--a growing national chain that I was familiar with in Portland. I figured my chances were good for a decent cup of coffee. It should be noted that I am a coffee snob. After being a regular patron of such mom and pop places as Jim and Patty's and Dogtooth Coffee, your average cup of joe does not cut it.

When I approach the counter, both starry-eyed, teenage barisatas ask in tandem, "Can we help you?" I immediately know I am in trouble. These ladies are obviously bored, and I'm certain fairly new to the complex world of coffee. But I pluck up my courage, and plunge ahead.

"Do you have any fair trade coffee brewed?" The girls look at one another with puzzled expressions on their faces. They look back at me. Then they turn around to look at their manager who is cleaning the bar. Catching the girls' puzzled looks, she moves quickly to the seen. "How can we help?"

"Do you have any fair trade coffee?" I repeat.

The manager explains that Peet's does have fair trade coffee, but that they do not carry any. She offers to order it for me. I thanked her and said no. I have heard of one place in town that does carry fair trade coffee. I decided not to purchase anything, but went up the street to Starbucks where I knew about their business practices and how they treat their growers. I also checked the supermarket shelves before leaving. No fair trade there either.

Here's the thing about that little fair trade certified label on your coffee, tea, chocolate, and many other products--that label means that farmers and laborers have the means to lift themselves out of poverty. Fair trade means that farmer groups receive a fair price and fair labor conditions. It means direct trade with the farmer groups. It means community development and environmental stability. Fair trade is a means of social justice for the world's poorest, and it's something that conscientious consumers must begin asking for.

So please consider asking for fair trade the next time you stop in for your morning (or afternoon) coffee. To find out more about fair trade certified products and practices, visit


Anonymous said...

if you are concerned about the plight of coffee farmers, the fair trade seal should hardly be an assurance that the coffee you are buying is paying any higher of a price than the most generic grade coffees. in fact, the fair trade price for coffee is actually about 20% lower than the commodity coffee price. you have to be wary of symbols. the often only represent an idea, not actual practice. coffee buyers like peet's and other smaller quality focussed retailers regularly pay above "fair trade" prices for their coffees. "fair trade" has done a lot of great work in educating the public to the hard life of a coffee farmer, but there are hundreds of certifications out there. they all do great things. fair trade has just been the most successfully marketed. successful marketing usually means successful marketing professionals. successful marketing professionals means big dollars in their bank accounts. where does that money come from? im just saying...

Amanda Peterson said...

Thanks for your comment, anonymous. I actually totally agree with you that the fair trade seal is not complete assurance. But it's a start. For a lot of people fair trade--here meaning fair trade practices--is a very complex subject. For your average consumer, that certified status is a good place to start. And I find that my average reader is that average consumer. Like I said in my post, I do not know about Peet's practices and thus chose not to purchase from them. I did do some research on the company later.

I can't speak for all "fair trade" labels, but I've done the research into the TransFair USA label. They are nonprofit based--meaning their money is coming from donations and grants. Of the organizations I've come across, I think they have done the best at "selling" the message. And let's face it we live in a time of consumption. Everything has a sales pitch, and those who pitch well are the messages that get through to the general public. Just saying, maybe give a little more credit to nonprofits who have successful marketing. They are getting there message to the public, and movements of change begin there.