Local businesses mislead consumers about fair trade practices

Over the years, the fair trade movement has brought third world problems to the first world consumer’s attention. When it first began, fair trade was mainly a small grass roots campaign. Today, with the establishment of organizations like Fairtrade International (FLO), fair trade has entered the mainstream market and in many ways has brought fair trade away from its initial concerns.

In other words, FLO has limited its mandates and goals to fit the agenda of large business. Meeting only the minimum standard required for a fair trade label in order to attract conscientious consumers helps many companies tap into alternative markets. Nonetheless, grass roots organizations have remained true to the cause. Alternative organizations like Grounds for Change and Coffee Bean Direct have been able to do so through establishing cooperatives that bring farmers together. Unfortunately, they only count for 3 percent of the world’s coffee farmers.

In Geneseo, Starbucks and Muddy Waters both lead consumers to believe they are purchasing fair trade when in actuality they aren’t. Although Muddy Waters claims on their website to only serve fair trade organic, in fact on two separate visits I found that the majority of blends they were serving were neither fair trade nor organic. Their supplier, Finger Lakes Coffee Roasters, confirmed this.

Starbucks too leads customers to assume they are supporting fair trade. But C.A.F.E (Coffee and Farmer Equity) practices are not even fair trade certified. Since FLO only certifies coffee grown in small-scale cooperatives, Starbucks has devised their own criteria to continue buying most of their coffee from medium and large-scale industrial farms. Seemingly, Starbucks’ commitment to C.A.F.E is a way to expand their reputation as a responsible company without having to abide by even the minimum standard set by FLO. According to Starbucks’ website, 84 percent of all coffee was purchased under C.A.F.E practices in 2010. They do not list a number for how much fair trade they sold, but here on campus, Café Estima, the only fair trade blend, is only available every other week.

When it comes to fair trade, alternative trade organizations like Coffee Direct are far better for growers. Not only do they pay a high standard for fair trade, usually around $2.20 per pound but they work to cut out the middle man. Corporations like Starbucks and Green Mountain Coffee, however, can pay the minimum for fair trade that is now around $1.30 per pound, give or take depending on the bean. The down side is that consumers have no way of knowing which company is paying more unless they investigate the company’s provisions with FLO.

If we really want to support fair trade we must make sure the trade we are supporting is actually fair. When it comes down to it, the future of fair trade depends on consumer demand for fair trade products that are meeting high standards. That’s up to us. If you want fair trade, you have to take the time to find the right cup. If not, it’s likely you’ll just be buying a label.