Five Companies Going Beyond Fair Trade Coffee

by Nicola Temple on March 26, 2012

We’ve written a lot about fair trade here on EcoVillageGreen – from flowers to diamonds – but it is coffee that has been the poster product for the fair trade movement. Fair trade coffee has become such a mainstream product, in fact, that places like McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts are selling it.

Fair Trade certified coffee means that the producers have met certain criteria in terms of labour practices and environmental standards. It also means that the end consumers pay a premium for the product, which goes back into the communities where the growers work – more money goes into the hands of the workers and their families.

Though fair trade coffee has risen in popularity in the last decade, it still holds a very small percentage of the market share.  In 2004, only 0.34% of the more than seven million metric tons of coffee produced were fair trade. In 2005, this number increased to 0.51%.

I don’t know about you, but these numbers surprised me. After all, fair trade coffee seems to be everywhere.  This suggests that marketing teams are getting lots of mileage out of relatively few fair trade products.

Numbers continue to rise though. In 2009, Fair Trade USA certified more than 110 million pounds of Fair Trade coffee imports, more than they had in their first seven years in business combined.

Certification bodies, such as Fair Trade USA work with coffee growing cooperatives that represent often thousands of small-scale growers, which would otherwise be at a serious disadvantage in the market place. They ensure they get a good price for their niche premium product.

fair trade coffee

In 2009, Fair Trade USA certified more than 110 million pounds of fair trade coffee imports. CC image courtesy of davidd on Flickr.

However, there are also a number of organizations that are taking the financial disparity between the impoverished growers and the wealthy coffee drinkers into their own hands. They are going what some have called ‘beyond fair trade’.

Five companies going beyond fair trade

1. Portland Roasting believes in what is known as Farm Friendly Direct. In other words, they are a roasting company that deals directly with the farmers. They eliminate all the middlemen and build relationships in the communities where the farmers live. On average, they pay farmers 30% more than market price. They also put a portion of their profits back into community projects such as helping fund internet access and funding teachers in local schools.

2. Camano Island Coffee Roasters has partnered with Agros International, which is a Seattle-based non-profit organization that works with impoverished villages in Central America. They help build resilience within the communities by helping low-paid labourers that are committed to working hard and learning become landowning farmers through skill training, and microloans. The folks behind Camano Island Coffee Roasters (CICR) liked this approach and saw an ideal partnership. CICR could source organic, fair trade coffee from the farmers in the Agros program and in return donate a portion of their profits ($1/bag) back to Agros to support their efforts in the villages.

3. Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee is a Massachusetts-based roaster and the founder, Dean Cycon, is a former environmental lawyer with strong views on what’s right for people and the planet. Dean’s beans come from the Oro Verde producer co-op and because the company works with the communities directly they are investing in their future…because, let’s face it, their business depends on it. Dean’s Beans puts significant money back into the communities, including provided funding for a daycare centre, a solar dryer and contributing to the installation of electricity in the community.

4. Rogers Family Company  is a family-owned roasting company in California. They roast more than 30 million pounds of coffee each year and, in return, invest $1 million per year on projects to improve the living conditions of workers on the coffee farms it buys from.

5. Doi Chaang Coffee is an interesting story that rises out off the hills of Northern Thailand. The Akha Hill Tribe once grew opium but now farm coffee. Most of the 10,000 people living in these hills do not have a Thai ID, which means they essentially can’t leave the hills, or access medical or educational facilities. As a result, these farmers have historically been taken advantage of, receiving unfair prices for their premium coffee beans. However, with some help along the way, these farmers now own 50% of the Doi Chaang Coffee company and they are paid nearly twice Fair Trade price for their product. Here are a few videos that are taken from a multi-clip documentary about Doi Chaang Coffee Co. They’re definitely worth the watch. Part one is an introduction:

Part 2 tells a little more…

Part 3 shows first-hand how fairly traded coffee has helped this remote community build their resilience by building their business, as well as building a school and hospital.

The price of coffee has seen some serious fluctuations over the last decade. With climate change affecting weather patterns, poor productivity is likely to be part of coffee grower’s futures. However, niche market growers, such as organic and Fair Trade coffee, are among the few that continue to receive a more substantial remuneration for their product despite low markets.

The US is the 2nd largest importer of coffee, approximately 1.5 million tonnes per year, which means there is a lot of purchasing power in this country – 24% of the global share in fact. So as individual consumers and business owners, we can have a large impact by choosing to buy/sell fair trade coffee and by supporting companies, such as these, that are going beyond fair trade.

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