According to Time magazine, Americans spend an average of $40 billion on coffee every year. That's insane! Think how amazing it would be, if that $40 billion was invested in positive social change. It easily can be, if we step back and take a look at the coffee we're drinking. The coffee bean industry is actually pretty corrupt. Similar to the chocolate industry, these delicious items we enjoy here in America are known for trafficking, child labor, and poor environmental practices behind the scenes. Singing Rooster, one of my favorite brands, goes above and beyond fair trade! They pay their framers a minimum of $3 a pound which is about double what most farmers make. AND Singing Rooster helps farmers further the development of their businesses.
What does Fair Trade mean? And why is it important?
There are a couple different certifications that ensure fair trade. Officially being fair trade usually entails a third party going in observing the businesses practices, interactions, finances, and tends to be an extensive process. The certifications work to ensure that workers are being paid fair wages, provided a safe working environment, and overall have a positive impact. (Want to learn more in depth? Check out the Fair Trade Federations list of principles.)
For example, one of my favorite brands of Fair Trade coffee, Singing Rooster, is part of the Fair Trade Federation. The Fair Trade Federation's mission is to "strengthen and promote North American organizations fully committed to fair trade. The Federation is part of the global fair trade movement, building equitable and sustainable trading partnerships and creating opportunities to alleviate poverty." To be part of this network brands must go through an extensive application to prove they are using trade for positive change and embracing the Fair Trade Federation's principles.
There are a few different Fair Trade organizations that certify brands such as FairTrade International, Fair Trade USA, World Fair Trade Organization, Fair for Life, and the Fair Trade Federation. All good organizations I encourage you to look into. If you're interested in the differentiations check out this awesome guide by Fair Trade Winds. The work of these organizations is so important because unfortunately our supply chains tend to be pretty corrupt and the disconnect between goods and consumers can get pretty foggy. The work these certification groups do help verify the positive impact of brands and point consumers in the right direction of which brands to support.
Direct Trade CoffeeTo go through the fair trade certification process can be costly and extensive, which is why there are quite a few smaller brands that use fair trade practices and positive working conditions, but are not certified. This is called direct trade. Direct trade is awesome too!
How do I know if my coffee is Fair Trade, direct trade, or just plain bad?
The fair trade certifications listed above have different symbols you can look for to ensure fair trade.
Direct trade does require a bit of extra research to figure out what type of farms your coffee is coming from and how workers are treated. And well, if you start asking your coffee brand where their coffee comes from, questions about the working conditions, and they are unable to provide you with an answer, then they're probably just plain bad.
Now let's look at one of my favorite coffee brands, Singing Rooster, which Give a Damn Goods happens to carry (I'm not biased though:)). At Singing Rooster, Farmers are paid a MINIMUM of $3 per pound; Singing Rooster returns another 50 cents after crops sell for continued business development. The remainder of cost pays for export/import, transport to roastery, warehousing, roasting, bagging, shipping. 100% of proceeds from sales back to farmer communities in the form of agricultural, small business management, and entrepreneurial development activities. Now that's some damn good coffee! Singing Rooster is also part of the Fair Trade Federation. As discussed above, this means that a third party has come in and verified their fair trade practices.
Switching to fair trade coffee is an easy change that has the power to a lot of people! Start with your own cup of coffee and then consider spreading the word. Tell your friends, change the brand of coffee at the office, the possibilities are endless! If you're looking for a fair trade brand of coffee to try I 10/10 recommend Singing Rooster. Seriously I drink it every morning. My personal favorite blend is the Medium Dark Vienna!
If you're interested in learning more about the coffee industry, I highly recommend the NY Times article Coffee Economics, Rewritten by Farmers.