It's National (Fair Trade?) Coffee Day!

Written by  September 29, 2011

Today is national coffee day! While you sip your decaf, non-fat soy latte, think about the fact that over 80 percent of Canadians drink coffee regularly, according to the Coffee Association of Canada, and in 2008 sales of coffee amounted to 16 percent of non-alcoholic beverage sales in Canada. So this just leaves the question: do you know where your coffee comes from?

Fair trade coffee is a pretty common term these days. It means fair wages for farmers who export coffee, yes, but it also means fair labour conditions (meaning that it's safe and pays its adult workers fair wages), direct trade between producers and importers whenever possible, transparent organizations (farmer cooperatives, mainly) and even community development in the regions where coffee is grown. And the organization working to make sure that these ideals are a part of any fair trade certification process is Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO), but the story doesn't end there.

While the popularity of buying fair trade coffee grows, so do the criticisms. For one, are companies like Wal-Mart, who purchases huge quantities of fair trade coffee, marking up their prices and profitting from selling more expensive fair trade coffee without paying its workers proportionally? And while all fair trade coffee producers participate in grower co-ops that are, in theory, more democratic and empowered than independent growers, how can anyone ensure that they are any less corrupt themselvs? And who decides what a "fair" wage is, anyway?

In the midst of these questions, the sales of fair trade-certified coffee continue to grow, with only 29 percent of surveyed consumers [links to a PDF survey] saying they never or rarely bought Fair Trade Certified products in 2010. Sounds encouraging, doesn't it? 

To read more about fair trade coffee, check out these resources:

And read this Verge article, "Joe Tourist: Fair Trade Coffee in Nicaragua."

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Published in Editor's Desk
Zalina Alvi

Zalina grew up in Toronto and began her career in journalism at the York University campus newspaper. Before joining Verge in 2010, she worked for a documentary festival, a non-profit organization and various magazines and newspapers. Zalina has had some eclectic travel experiences, including reporting for a newspaper on the island of Molokai in Hawaii.

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