It sounds like “fair trade organic” is one phrase, a holistic term that refers to something sublime and original. The truth is, it is sublime and original. But we’re really talking about two concepts that started with nothing in common. Today, however, they represent two concepts with a shared goal, so it makes sense to pair them together.
Coffee producers can be labeled “Fair Trade Certified” if they meet certain standards of fair trade practices that have been in place and monitored by Fair Trade USA since 1998.
Fair Trade USA is an extension of the international fair trade movement that preceded it.
Traditionally, fair trade certification was reserved for small farms – and not just coffee farms. If a family-owned farm, a smaller cooperative, or other economically disadvantaged farms were certified as “fair trade,” then it meant that they used sustainable agricultural practices in the growth and production of coffee and other farming products. That meant they disposed of hazardous wastes properly, maintained buffer zones around water sources, minimized water use, and avoided soil erosion.
Fair trade also guarantees a minimum price on the market for coffee products. This ensures that small farmers can be paid a fair amount for their coffee and not forced out of business by large famers who can control prices and undercut competition.
In December 2011, Fair Trade USA broke with Fair Trade International by allowing large corporations to be certified as fair trade corporations if they met the standards.
A coffee grower can be certified “fair trade” without being certified organic.
To be certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, coffee producers cannot use pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and other synthetic substances during the growing process. At least 95 percent of the coffee beans grown must be organically grown.
Many consumers want to know that their coffee was grown without the assistance of synthetic ingredients or additives. The “Certified Organic” label gives them that assurance.
If a coffee product is labeled “Fair Trade Organic,” then the farming and agricultural process used to manufacture that products meets the minimum standards of both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Fair Trade USA, a non-governmental non-profit agency. It also means that coffee consumers can be confident that they are getting healthy coffee that is environmental-friendly and not harmful to farm workers.