As consumers, there are many ways to make a difference and create a positive impact in the world. Canadians are the biggest coffee consumers in North America, averaging three cups of coffee per day, per person. This means that we can start by applying smart consumerism and a sense of common decency to our routine, simply by purchasing fair trade coffee and by understanding the origins of our daily cup and the way it reached our country’s market.
Currently coffee is considered the second largest traded commodity next to oil. The difference with fair trade coffee is that it ensures that more money spent on the coffee reaches those who actually grow it — the farmers or producers, found mostly in developing countries, such as Latin America, Indonesia and Africa. The coffee industry, where 400 billion cups are consumed each year, if not regulated, causes the farmers to be part of terrible working conditions, sometimes compared to “sweatshops in the field.”
On average, coffee farmers earn less than $2 a day, which means that they receive way less than the cost of production, forcing them to live in poverty. According to the Global Exchange organization, the plight of the coffee growers can be relieved when importers become “Fair Trade Certified” by meeting international standards on the marketplace, directing the price per pound of coffee to a minimum of US$1.26 for regular coffee and US$1.31 for certified organic coffee. Providing the farmers with necessary assistance to help them shift to organic farming, which trickles down to a positive environmental impact, is also part of the fair trade world duties.
Standardized prices need to meet the average costs necessary to cover the farmers’ production, which are ensured even when the world markets fall below what is needed to maintain a sustainable level, providing a safety net for the coffee producers and keeping them from having to depend entirely on the market.
Non-profit Fair Trade Certification organizations such as Transfair Canada, a member of the Fairtrade Labelling Organizations (FLO) international, is responsible for certifying that Canadian products labeled as fairly traded actually respect the international Fair Trade Standards. Those are set by organizations such as FLO, in accordance with the International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labeling Alliance (ISEAL) Code of Good Practice on Standard Setting, which involves important consultations with stakeholders. Fair trade standards include generic standards (all fair trade producers and traders), specific product standards, fair trade minimum prices and fair trade premiums going into a communal fund for workers and farmers, which need to be met by producers and traders.
Faire trade coffee not only promotes human rights for all, but also plays an important role in the lives of women in developing countries that are important coffee-producing nations. Women coffee producers represent 30 per cent of the 25 million coffee growers who are behind 75 per cent of the world’s coffee production. They are often subject to serious gender inequality and poverty in most coffee production regions, where they are denied rights and income.
A clear example of the fair trade coffee system’s beneficial effects is presented through the efforts and accomplishments of organizations like Café Femenino.
Nowadays, the Café Femenino Coffee Project, which was founded by the Organic Products Trading Co. (OPTCO) in 2004, involves the participation of more than 1,500 women across Latin America, namely, Bolivia, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru. OPTCO is an association committed to develop and to import “high quality certified organic and faire trade coffee” and is based in Vancouver, Washington.
It is a project runs a social program that helps female coffee producers in particular. It makes an attempt to improve their living conditions in rural communities where they are often marginalized and abused. This wonderful global project promotes the integration of female coffee farmers into social, political and occupational organizations in places where it is usually very uncommon for women to participate in coffee production and to be able to have a say on how to use the money from the coffee sales.
The extent of how much of a difference we can make simply by intelligently purchasing the right type of coffee is incredible. By consuming fair trade coffee, one is directly contributing to the fair and stable prices of products that workers in developing countries completely depend on and to a great respect for the environment.
So before drinking your next cup of coffee, consider being a responsible global citizen. Think twice, get informed and look for the “Fair Trade certified” labels.
Sarah Khalil is the International Comment Coordinator for the Manitoban.