From: Glenn Hasek, Green Lodging News, More from this Affiliate
Published September 24, 2007 01:20 PM

Offer Your Guests and Staff the Best Coffee: Fair Trade Certified

There is a pretty good chance you are drinking coffee while reading this column. I am one of those rare individuals who has never had a cup of coffee. Never. That’s probably a good thing with the price of java rising faster than petroleum. Speaking of which, did you know that coffee is the world’s second most valuable traded commodity? It is just behind petroleum. According to San Francisco-based Global Exchange, coffee is the United States’ largest food import.

The United States primarily purchases coffee from Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, and Vietnam. It also buys coffee from Indonesia, Costa Rica, Peru, El Salvador, Ecuador, Venezuela, Honduras, Uganda, Thailand, Nicaragua, India, and Papua New Guinea. Take another look at the caffeinated concoction swirling before you. It traveled a long way to get to your coffee cup.

The lodging industry is a huge consumer of coffee. There is no way to know exactly how much it purchases. It is offered in guestrooms, restaurants, night clubs, breakfast areas, and in offices. With such a large river of joe flowing through its buildings, the industry has a responsibility to purchase coffee grown by farmers who are fairly compensated for their product and who work in conditions that are environmentally safe. Too often, coffee workers toil in conditions that are sweatshop-like, pesticide-polluted, and receive prices that are less than the costs of production, forcing them into a cycle of poverty and debt. What can you do to support those companies that treat growers with respect? Purchase Fair Trade Certified coffee. Not sure what that means?


Fair Trade products are certified in the United States by TransFair USA, the only independent, third-party certifier. It works with importers and manufacturers to document business practices, providing a reliable consumer guarantee that indicates what coffees have been purchased from producers according to Fair Trade criteria. These criteria are established by Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International (FLO), a consortium of Fair Trade groups in Japan, Canada, the United States and 17 European countries. FLO makes annual inspection visits to producer groups on its Fair Trade Register to ensure that the benefits of Fair Trade relationships are reaching the farmers.

Fair Trade Principles Include:

• Fair price: Democratically organized farmer groups receive a guaranteed minimum floor price and an additional premium for certified organic products. Farmer organizations are also eligible for pre-harvest credit.

• Fair labor conditions: Workers on Fair Trade farms enjoy freedom of association, safe working conditions, and living wages. Forced child labor is strictly prohibited.

• Direct trade: With Fair Trade, importers purchase from Fair Trade producer groups as directly as possible, eliminating unnecessary middlemen and empowering farmers to develop the business capacity necessary to compete in the global marketplace.

• Democratic and transparent organizations: Fair Trade farmers and farm workers decide democratically how to invest Fair Trade revenues.

• Community development: Fair Trade farmers and farm workers invest Fair Trade premiums in social and business development projects like scholarship programs, quality improvement trainings, and organic certification.

• Environmental sustainability: Harmful agrochemicals and genetically modified organisms are strictly prohibited in favor of environmentally sustainable farming methods that protect farmers’ health and preserve valuable ecosystems for future generations.

Does Fair Trade coffee cost more? Not necessarily, according to TransFair USA. Fair Trade Certified coffees are generally priced competitively with other gourmet, specialty coffees. They are, however, more expensive than mass-produced, low quality coffees. As Fair Trade expands to more companies, buyers will increasingly have more choice of where to buy their Fair Trade Certified products. This increased competition will most likely drive down prices.

Even if Fair Trade coffee does cost a little more, buying it is the right thing to do. Today’s increasingly environmentally and socially conscious travelers will respect you for it and reward you with their business. Farmers who grow the coffee beans will profit and improve their standard of living. Not a bad deal if you ask me.


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