Last Update: July 20, 2023
When you order a cup of coffee at your local cafe, the beans used to make it likely traveled thousands of miles, passed through countless hands, and required an impressive effort to grow, process, roast, and, finally, to brew. Though coffee has been part of the global culture for thousands of years, as the coffee trade became increasingly competitive, it also grew rife with human rights violations and devastating environmental strain on the areas in the world where coffee is grown.
This National Coffee Day, we’re talking to four coffee brands about one particularly important certification that you may notice on your coffee packaging: Fair Trade. This label is reserved only for coffees that are sourced according to some of the highest ethical standards, which consider both the farmers who grow the beans and the preservation of the planet. If you’re dedicated to buying only coffees with transparent sourcing practices, this is a simple way to discern which brands take the full supply chain into consideration when sourcing their beans.
According to Fair World Project, Fair Trade brands are brands that are “[Members of] Fair Trade Federation, World Fair Trade Organization, Cooperative Coffees or Domestic Fair Trade Association and/or certified by an eco-social certification at 70% or above of product line with use of the “all that can be policy” in all products.” While there is no one certification that guarantees a brand is Fair Trade, brands can apply for certification from a number of organizations working to establish a more equitable future for farmers and more diligent environmental preservation.
Fair Trade businesses work in collaboration with farmers and producers to ensure that they obtain a living wage for their goods and services, as well as to create the highest possible labor standards. Fair Trade practices also guarantee a transparent supply chain, with traceability that allows consumers to follow a product from the point of purchase back to its source. This is incredibly important in an industry like coffee, as it protects the most vulnerable individuals who are often taken advantage of by importers or large corporations.
Thrive Market may offer a wide assortment of different types of coffees, but they all share the same Fair Trade certification. Whether you prefer a smooth breakfast blend or a decaf to keep the jitters at bay, our exclusive brand prioritizes ethical sourcing that you can trace from the farm to the bag.
“Historically, coffee has been one of the most exploitative crops, with farmers often being paid pennies on the dollar relative to roasters, brokers, and brands marketing the finished products,” says Jeremiah McElwee, Thrive Market’s Chief Merchandising Officer. “That’s what makes Fair Trade coffee so vital.”
McElwee goes on to explain that the little symbol on the bag isn’t just for show. “The partnerships we have at Thrive Market directly support a better life for coffee farming families by ensuring they are paid a price that allows for a living wage, community project support and environmental stewardship,” he explains. McElwee is also adamant about developing lasting relationships with the farmers from whom Thrive Market sources coffee. “Our coffee-farming partners market their own harvests through direct, long-term contracts with us so that they can plan on future growth accordingly. Receiving a premium price for their harvest allows these farmers to invest in their families’ health care and education, reinvest in quality, and protect the environment.”
For more than 25 years, Kicking Horse has roasted their coffees in the beautiful Canadian Rocky Mountains. The brand sources 100% certified Organic and Fair Trade Arabica beans, so not only do their coffees have a bold, delicious flavor, they also offer the peace of mind of buying from an ethical, sustainable supply chain.
Kicking Horse values Fair Trade Certification because it enables their farmers to grow their own businesses. They explain:
“Fair Trade is a system that uses profits from coffee to empower farmers and invest in their community’s future. Instead of reactive aid, Fair Trade supplies the proactive tools, training and practices for farmers to run smart, successful and sustainable businesses. [It] assists in developing farmers’ independence, helps farmers and communities create warehousing and processing plants, and can also help them to achieve Organic certification.”
In order to see the farming process first hand, the team behind Kicking Horse travels to three to five countries each year. “We visit with our cooperatives to discuss topics from how to help support their financial needs to gender equality with the cooperative and its members,” says Tom Hoyne, the Vice President of Coffee and Quality Assurance at Kicking Horse. “We tour the facilities, spend time with agronomists, and spend many days out in the farms meeting farmers. […] We’ve shared countless meals with farmers to discuss their challenges, meet their families, and inspect the farms and their equipment.”
Ethical sourcing practices are the core of the business for Mount Hagen. The brand gets their name from Mount Hagen, Papua New Guinea (the region where they source all their coffees), and they pride themselves on being longtime biodynamic farming pioneers in the coffee industry.
“For us at Mount Hagen, the Fair Trade certification is both a recognition of everything the brand stands for, and our commitment to furthering the issue of awareness to support local farmers and respect the environment,” explains Mount Hagen’s US Importer President Brad Biederman. “We like to say that our coffee is shamelessly delicious: a consumer can enjoy the full-bodied coffee and opulent aroma while knowing the farmers that labored and the environment from which the beans are carefully selected were treated with the utmost respect and dignity.”
Biederman also notes that Mount Hagen’s passion for ethically sourced coffee dates back to the 1980s, when it wasn’t nearly as commonplace to consider how coffee is sourced. “Back in 1987, the idea of biodynamic coffee farming in Papua New Guinea was unheard of,” he recounts. “In this beautiful, remote, and untamed country, it took many years to develop the trust of the people.”
Things have progressed quite a bit since those early years. “Today, Mount Hagen works with over 2,500 farmers in Papua New Guinea and many more across Latin America and Africa,” Biederman says. Fair Trade certifications have made these efforts a bit more streamlined, though Biederman says the core values of Fair Trade were already in the brand’s ethos. “Our growth and success are based on fairness for everyone — for the farmers, the environment, and the client.”
This brand’s ethical sourcing model works to help end the cycle of poverty affecting female coffee farmers across the world. By providing a fair wage directly to farmers and supplying resources that benefit their communities, Café Femenino Coffee supports these women on their own terms while sourcing their 100% organic coffees.
“Women in remote and rural coffee communities face a host of challenges that keep them trapped in poverty,” explains Lane Mitchell, Director of Marketing & National Sales for Café Femenino Coffee. “Many of these isolated women live in male-dominated societies and have very little financial control or decision-making power.” She and the Café Femenino team believe that Fair Trade practices help to ensure that these women are fairly compensated for their work in a way that directly impacts their independence and, in turn, their quality of life. “[Certification through Fairtrade International] enables farmers to have more control over their lives and decide how to invest in their futures.”
While Fair Trade certification is an important first step, Café Femenino ensures that the women are also given a legal right to the land they farm and leadership positions in their cooperatives. “They also have financial and business decision-making power, which recognizes the important contribution they make to their families and communities,” Mitchell explains. According to firsthand reports from the Café Femenino team, incidences of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse are much lower in these communities, and there is even an increase in the number of girls who attend school.
This nuanced approach not only offers a higher wage, but provides farmers with something more important in the long run: ownership of their farms. “These things, together, have made a meaningful difference in the quality of life and the quality of harvests for the women at the heart of coffee.”
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