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Why Fairtrade Isn't Enough

Updated: Nov 10, 2022

What Is Fairtrade?

According to Fairtrade America, “Fairtrade is part of a broad landscape of organizations working to make ethical and sustainable sourcing the norm.” It’s a worldwide movement that aims to ensure farmers and workers receive a fair price for their goods.

Though many companies claim to be Fairtrade, they are not. Are you sure that the products that you are purchasing, namely coffee, are actually Fairtrade?

Spot the difference! “Fair Trade” is not a protected term. Look for the Fairtrade (all one word) logo on products to ensure they've gone an extra step in ensuring a more ethical process.

Fairtrade Doesn’t Equal Livable Wages

Seeing the Fairtrade logo on products may make us feel better about what we purchase. However, at Phoenix Roasters Foundation, we discovered that it doesn’t always mean fair. To us, a fair price for goods means the farmers can pay their workers a living wage and still make a profit that keeps them in business. It doesn’t seem ethical that we can enjoy a daily cup of top-ranked coffee while the farmers who harvested it can’t afford to send their children to school.

According to the fairtrade pricing table the fairtrade price of coffee is less than $2 per pound of coffee. When you consider the size of many farms, the materials, tools, buildings and facilities, manual labor, water, and hired help to pick the farms, plus the taxes that many governments take out, this price is actually not a livable wage. Most coffee companies that you recognize in a grocery store or from popular chain coffee shops don’t even pay this minimal Fairtrade cost, let alone a livable wage.

Direct Relationships

Even when more reliable exporters claim their coffee is Fairtrade, it may be truly hard to know what cut the farmer receives unless there is a direct relationship with their farmers. Unfortunately, in many coffee-producing countries, commercial coffee mills, where the coffee is processed, get the bigger cut of the money. You may think, “Why don’t these farmers just build and use their own private mills?” Many farmers don’t have the ability because of their government's involvement in production and sales. So, even with Fairtrade prices, the farmer may actually be receiving less than the initial price once it passes through the hands of the mill and government.

Why Coffee Matters

During the Covid-19 Pandemic many coffee farmers could not stay afloat, both in production and finances. With medical prices going up and quarantine mandates progressing during 2020, the export of goods became less frequent and many farmers suffered. A good deal of them already didn’t make enough money as it was, but this was a huge blow.

In many parts of South America, the result of the lockdowns changed the trajectory of many coffee farms. Seeing that their coffee farms were not as profitable, a different market began looking enticing to farmers. Some pivoted to growing coca plants, which hold the essential ingredient used to make cocaine. Sadly, they were finding more money in this industry than in coffee. These decisions obviously lead to relationships with drug lords and gangs, which, as we know, always turn out for the worse.

Another sad reality of Central and South American coffee farmers was being so desperate during lockdowns that they fell prey to large coffee companies buying their farms for pennies on the dollar. Our hope is to reduce these instances and help restore ethical practices in the coffee industry.

The Phoenix Roasters Difference

At Phoenix Roasters, we have direct relationships with our farmers and we pay well over the Fairtrade price for our top-ranked coffee. Many of our farmers also have private mills, which allows them to retain more of their profits. Our farmers are more than just our production sites, they are our friends; partnered with us in creating global change. This global change doesn’t only impact the coffee industry, but extends to the well-being of the surrounding communities of our farmers and beyond.

Read more about our Roastery and our Foundation online, and join the mission!

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