Why Fair Trade?

Why Fair Trade? Well, it’s my question this week… or at least one of them… others nagging me are why can’t the US fund a proper train system or successfully promote public transportation, or why can’t we all stop using plastic grocery bags, or why does soda fill an entire aisle in any supermarket you walk into even though it is a major cause of obesity in our country, or why are we being sold food sprayed with pesticides even though those chemicals are banned in our country… okay, I have many questions, but the why not buy, demand even, Fair Trade Certified coffee is tops.

As a non-coffee drinker, I felt out of the loop in the fair trade movement. In my ignorance I hadn’t really even considered what the term stood for, and never thought much about coffee consumption and the consequences of this multi-billion dollar industry, because, as I mentioned, I drink tea. But as of late, my dear spouse, to ward off rising craziness, swore off caffeine. At first, the natural switch was to decaf tea, but one day I came home to the smell of coffee wafting out our kitchen door. Coffee? Here? Now? Entering I was handed the Barista’s Beanspackage (a local roaster), and read the words fair trade and organic, clearly printed, and thus began my curiosity about fair trade coffee. (Oh, yes, this was a decaffeinated variety.)

Simply put, Fair Trade means a fair or living wage for the toil of the worker and the price of their harvested beans. Wage is the key part of this term: not a three bathrooms in your five bedroom home where you live with your husband and two children plus an over-sized, flat-screen plasma TV in every room and a $40,000 car in your driveway kind-of wage, but a wage that just puts food on your table twice a day to feed your family, and might, just might even allow your children to finish elementary school before they start to work from dawn until dusk along side you.

From this small bag of beans I started to notice whenever I saw the fair trade certified sign and when I didn’t. Our local health food store had several varieties of coffee, from all over the globe, all fair trade. And our local cooperative restaurant only serves fair trade coffee. But what about where most of America buys coffee… I noticed that in most places fair trade is not an option, in fact, in most coffee shops, it is hardly a topic of conversation. But that means that every time you or I order a coffee from one of the BIG FOUR we are contributing to inexcusable, unethical business practices, that directly impact peoples’ quality of life all over our globe.

So who are the four conglomerates that own close to 80% of all coffee companies? For starters is Sara Lee, the once former owner of Hills Brothers and Chock Full o’Nuts, all now owned by Massimo Zanetti Beverage USA. Then there is Kraft, which owns Maxwell House, General Foods International Coffee, Gevalia and Sanka. J.M. Smucker Co owns Dunkin Donuts retail distribution, Folgers, Millstone and Kava. Nestle owns Nescafe and Taster’s Choice (“Coffee & Conversation.
Each one of these mega-conglomerates provide your gas stations, convenient stores and kitchen cupboard with coffee. For the most part these conglomerates care little for fair anything, however, each has bought or are developing smaller companies to do just that, because, fair trade is trendy and these big guys follow trends.

Digging a bit more I did happily discover that Dunkin Donuts, clearly a favorite stop for many coffee drinkers, advertises on its website that it offers a fair trade expresso coffee. But when I went to one of the many shops there were no signs indicating the coffee was fair trade, nor did the counter server know if it was true or not. I asked her to check and see if there was anything she could find to validate their website claim. She returned a few minutes later with a cup sleeve, and on that was the Fair Trade Certified symbol. Interestingly, she had no idea what that meant… The expresso, which is priced higher, is used for their cappuccinos or other speciality drinks and represents the smallest line they sell. However, if Dunkin Donuts is where you normally get your morning brew, by requesting the expresso you can send a message that fair trade is more than a trend, it is a priority.

Over to Starbucks I see Fair Trade wordage all over the place. Starbucks claims that 84% of their coffee can be traced back to ethically responsible work and trade farms. They state very clearly on their website that this has been a goal for over a decade. Wow, that sounds like a place to buy your java! I can’t guarantee that all their coffee, even the plain old coffee brewing there 24/7 is fair trade, but ask, and then request that the coffee you purchase is fair trade.

This is capitalism at its best. We can shape what these companies provide us by demanding what is better for our planet and for the people who inhabit it. Look at what we did this past year–we made every food chain display the outlandish calories they are serving up, right? So perhaps we can make this world-changing change too… it is all up to us consumers, and how we order our brew. Me? I’m switching to Bewley’s Special Blend Fair Trade tea.

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