From: Jill Richardson, AlterNet, Organic Consumers Association, More from this Affiliate
Published February 19, 2010 09:40 AM

Does Fair Trade Coffee Lift Growers Out of Poverty

Does Fair Trade Coffee Lift Growers Out of Poverty or Simply Ease Our Guilty Conscience?
Is the Fair Trade movement just a marketing scheme or does it truly provide a living wage for coffee growers?


How many times a day do you consume a food produced by a subsistence farmer on the other side of the world? Whether it's chocolate, coffee, tea, sugar or bananas, most Americans regularly enjoy inexpensive tropical foods, but far fewer actually think about the effects on the people or the environment where those products are grown. The Fair Trade movement represents one attempt to change this by reminding consumers that their lifestyles rely on faraway farmers and laborers and offering them an opportunity to ensure their purchases come from farmers paid a fair price.

At least, that's what consumers believe when they consciously select Fair Trade products. Is the consumer truly raising subsistence farmers out of poverty by buying Fair Trade? Or is Fair Trade just a marketing scheme to ease our guilty consciences as we exploit people of the developing world?

While a number of products are now certified Fair Trade, the first one introduced into the United States -- coffee -- is also one of the most widely available. Fair Trade means more than just a fair price to the coffee grower; it also means the growers are organized into democratically run cooperatives. Often (but not always) the cooperative model extends into the U.S. where roasters of Fair Trade coffee are also worker-owned cooperatives. Yet, nowadays even Wal-Mart -- the very embodiment of everything Fair Trade values oppose -- sells Fair Trade coffee.

As it turns out, Fair Trade-certified coffee is not all equal, even if all Fair Trade coffee pays growers more than the market price.

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