Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Happy Fair Trade Month! All about fair trade & where to find it

October is National Fair Trade Month. If you're not familiar with the term, "Fair Trade" means that when buying products (like coffee, chocolate, tea, and fruit), instead of following the market's ups and downs and paying as little as possible, you pay a fair amount that producers can count on. The fair trade process also cuts out exploitative middlemen, and ensures other standards of decency and good management.

Fair trade coffee is one of the most well-known and widespread fair trade products, partially because coffee is the second-most traded commodity worldwide, after petroleum. But while we pay $6, $8, $10 a pound or more for coffee, the market prices right now are around 85 cents a pound (up from a low of 41 cents in 2001!), and small farmers get more like 20-40 cents a pound from the middlemen who export their coffee. In contrast, the fair trade price is at least $1.26 a pound ($1.41/pound if it's certified organic)-- if the market goes above that, the producers get the market price plus 5 cents. Fair trade coffee comes from small producers, not big farms which depend on and exploit hired labor; however, small farmers are encouraged to form democratically-run cooperatives to increase their efficiency. It's relatively easy to find whole bean fair trade coffee for sale; try this list, this one, or this if you're having trouble.* Also, Dunkin' Donuts now uses fair trade coffee in all its espresso drinks, although not its regular coffee. Starbucks likes to brag about fair trade coffee, but it will only sell it brewed if you specifically ask (they do have fair trade beans on sale).

Fair trade chocolate is also a major fair trade product. One important reason to support fair trade chocolate is that much mainstream chocolate is actually made with child labor (and even child slave labor). Most cocoa comes from Africa, and 43% of it comes from the Ivory Coast. On average, for every $1 spent on chocolate, producers get 5 cents. The small farmers live in poverty; the large plantations squeeze out a profit by working their employees for long, brutal hours at very low pay. But fair trade cocoa not only sets a floor price, but also requires that no child labor or forced labor be used, and that workers' rights to organize are not violated. Global Exchange is a leader in the campaign for fair trade chocolate, including the effort to get big companies like Nestle and M&M/Mars to use fair trade chocolate. Learn more here. And click here for places to buy fairly traded chocolate and cocoa. (Or here's a listing of places selling chocolate, cocoa, and coffee.)

There are other fair trade products, too. Fair trade tea is often sold by the same vendors as fair trade coffee and cocoa, or you can try some of Honest Tea's bottled iced tea varieties; learn more here. Fair trade fruit is new to the U.S. market, but fair trade bananas, mangoes, pineapples, and grapes can be found at these locations-- and fair trade bananas are available at Wild Oats Markets across the country. There may also soon be fair trade vanilla, rice, and sugar available in the U.S. And fairly traded crafts and gifts were where the fair trade movement began; there are many, many places to get them, including the 160+ Ten Thousand Villages stores nationwide.

A lot of these links are for online shopping; here's a good general fair trade search engine to find places to shop near you. And FYI: In honor of Fair Trade Month, orders over $20 at the Global Exchange online store are 10% off (use Coupon Code ftm2006). Other fair trade retailers may also have specials.

Some people object to fair trade in principle, believing that when low prices cause small farmers and their families to live in poverty, it's a natural process to drive them off their inefficient farms, which Fair Trade efforts shouldn't interfere with. Or that when workers on plantations work grueling hours for little pay, there's no reason to be concerned, because if workers are willing to sell their labor at that price, it's a natural function of the market. As you may have guessed, I disagree; I think that a) there are more important things than maximum economic efficiency; and b) it's healthier and more efficient anyway, in the broader sense, to help struggling people in poverty earn enough from their work to support their families.

What do you think? How do you feel about the concept of fair trade in general? Do you buy fair trade products? Why or why not? How often?

As for me, researching this post has reminded me that I don't buy Fair Trade nearly as often as I'd like. It's hard for me to pay a little more-- I have that little voice of frugality telling me to buy the cheapest stuff-- but this is something I feel strongly about, and I shouldn't give in to the little voice as often as I do. For me personally, I think this crosses the line from me being frugal to being cheap, since it affects other people (the producers/workers), and I hereby resolve to make a much stronger effort on this front. (Hold me accountable, folks!) Now if I could only find fair trade mocha mix...

*Apologies for the U.S.-centrism of this post; if you're from another country and would like suggestions of where you can buy fair trade products, e-mail or leave a comment and I'll be glad to share what I know.


OEconomist said...

I'm in Australia. I probably have some tips to post, but I'm a bit braindead right now. If you know anything I don't, I'd love to hear it!

Btw, I found some really good Fair Trade chocolate at Coles (big supermarket chain) the other week. I was thrilled, and it's basically replacing Lindt as my easily-available-yet-decent chocolate of choice.

Penny Nickel said...

Oh, what brand? Maybe they sell it here, too.

I don't have too much that's impressive-- just what I found from googling "australia fairtrade," like and but I'd love to hear your tips!

OEconomist said...

OK, I just went and bought some (oh, the sacrifices I make) and the brand name is Cocolo and they have a website at

Alas, they only had the white chocolate with almond today, when I really wanted the orange dark chocolate. Apparently they had a shipment sitting out back but hadn't unpacked it yet, and I couldn't hang around. *sigh*

Penny, on another note -- I've recently started up my own blog/journal that I think might interest you. My name above this comment should link to it. I'd love to chat to you more either there or here or in email.

Fair Trade Coffee said...

I love seeing how the fair trade movement spreads. I also started out with fair trade coffee, and have quickly moved on to other fair trade products. My favorite non-coffee product is probably the fantastic fair trade cocoa that Trader Joe's sells!!