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October is the 9th National Fair Trade Month, and with many of our coffees certified Fair Trade and all our coffees bought at better-than Fair Trade prices, we are celebrating. But what exactly is Fair Trade? The words have become buzzwords, a certification, a movement. Perhaps you, like many other coffee lovers, will only drink Fair Trade-certified coffees–and your dedication to justice is worthy of applause. Again the question: what IS Fair Trade, and why should we care?
Today, 168 million children are trapped in negative labor situations. The coffee industry is well-known to be one of the worst for child labor exploitation and sub-human working standards. The average coffee farmer barely breaks even financially, and his workers are seasonal drifters, whose children pick in the fields from dawn til dust beside them. Education is spotty or non-existant and food and shelter, especially in off-harvest seasons, are iffy.
Then, look at the life of the average coffee farmer in, say, northern Peru. Usually he has to take out a loan from the local umbrella cooperative to make it through the year until his coffee harvest comes in. Once the coffee is sold–to the lowest, quickest bidder, because he doesn’t have resiliency to wait for better prices–he makes just enough to pay his workers and pay back the loan, only to start the sordid cycle over again. He is preyed on by coyotes, or unscrupulous coffee buyers, and can’t develop the time and education needed to advocate for himself in the international coffee forum.
This is why Fair Trade coffee exists. If a coffee is certified Fair Trade, it is guaranteed to have been purchased at better-than commodity-market prices, to have been produced under fair working conditions without child or slave labor. The farmers have access to education and micro-loans, and as many middlemen as possible have been eliminated.
While Fair Trade is not the ONLY kind of buying that puts justice for the producers foremost, we are proud to roast multiple Fair Trade coffees, including the Organic Sumatra Mandheling. Thank you for joining in with the just coffee revolution!