The October 5, 2009 print issue of Time Magazine carried an article titled, What Price for Good Coffee? Fair Trade Practices Were Created to Help Small Farmers. But They May Have their Limits.
Time Magazine cites a survey that was done in Central America, of families that grow Fair Trade Certified coffee. Half of the farmers that were surveyed said that their families went hungry for several months of the year. That information is enough to knock the wind out of a fair trade activist.
As per Time Magazine, Fair Trade coffee is a tough business. The costs of growing Fair Trade coffee have risen in recent years. The price that is paid to the farmers is set by the Fair Trade Labeling International (FLO). The price is above that for non-organic coffee, with the higher cost being passed on to consumers. If the FLO were to significantly raise the price paid to the farmers, the reduced demand might shrink the number of farmers and family members who benefit, from millions, to tens of thousands. But as it is today, the FT coffee farmers are still better off with Fair Trade. Most farmers don’t have any better alternatives, either within farming or in other careers.
Yet, there is still plenty of hope for Fair Trade coffee. It is only a small fraction of the overall coffee market--2.5% according to Time. With such a small market share, it has plenty of room for growth. Surely, increased efforts by activists to raise awareness and increase demand will pay off. Even a small percentage increase in market share should result in a significant benefit to existing Fair Trade farmers, plus encourage the creation of more Fair Trade cooperatives.
Coffee was the first Fair Trade Certified product and remains the flagship product of the Fair Trade Movement. If the Fair Trade market were to disappear, it would probably precipitate the end of Fair Trade for all products. Such an event would inevitably force millions of workers and their families into exploitive labor conditions and the sex trade.
Nomi Network is an abolitionist organization with a strong interest in promoting fair trade. Part of Nomi Network’s mission is to create jobs that pay a living wage, for women who have been rescued from sexual slavery, as well as for women who are at risk due to economic or social circumstances. The availability of jobs that pay fair wages helps to eliminate the economic conditions that force women into prostitution. In Cambodia, for example, a typical adult woman may be responsible for supporting a family of four or five. For each person hired in a fair trade enterprise, this means that four or five people are no longer vulnerable to sex trafficking. Fairly employed women do not have to resort to working in brothels to support themselves or their families. Previously impoverished parents who could not feed all of their children do not have to take the risk of turning their children over to fraudulent agents who promise legitimate jobs for them but who enslave them in brothels instead. Every time a consumer buys a fairly traded product, they are helping to support ethical labor practices and the elimination of slavery.
To help consumers, Nomi Network has created an online map that shows the location of stores that sell products that are made with ethical labor practices. Currently, the map is for New York City only, but Washington, D.C. will be added in the future. To see the map, go to the Nomi Network website, www.nominetwork.org, and click on the link that says, “Slave Free Map.”
Stephen M. Bauer