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 transfairusa.org.