Fair Trade coffee in context

Given the amount of discussion that Fair Trade certification seems to generate, I would have thought Fair Trade coffees were more, well, “traded.” However, a study I read recently makes Fair Trade look like a drop in the ocean (forget the bucket!). I’ll paste in a representative graphic (hint: the small brown dots represent Fair Trade purchases by major roasters as a percentage of total purchases). For more, please click through to the full report by two academics, Daniel Jaffee and Phil Howard, who do a great job of visualizing information.

Now it’s important to notice the authors’ caveat that the last year for which the above data were available is 2008; the picture might look somewhat different now, or it might not.

The U.S. data reported are more recent but less than comprehensive due to various factors, e.g. evolving standards within Fair Trade USA and certain companies’ unwillingness to divulge their Fair Trade sales percentages.

About that first factor, here’s more detail from the study (American Exceptionalism at work):

“For the US fair trade market, these figures may offer one of the last reliable ‘snapshots’ of large companies’ coffee purchases from fair trade small farmer organizations. Because Fair Trade USA’s new standards will allow roasters to certify coffee from plantations and estates beginning in 2012, it will no longer be possible to distinguish between sources. Companies purchasing little or no smallholder-grown coffee could even have up to 100% of their coffee bearing the fair trade label. Thus, comparisons between the US market and the rest of the world may no longer be possible.”

I’m going to refrain from taking a position on this issue for the moment because I’d like to respect the spirit of the study, the authors of which (as far as I can tell) aim simply (and *fairly*—pun intended) to communicate some facts relevant to discussions of Fair Trade-certified coffee. So, voilà!


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