Bad news, caffeine addicted do-gooders- that pricey fair trade coffee isn’t as socially responsible as you think.
A consumer who purchases “fair trade coffee” can reasonably assume that their purchase is supporting typically economically disenfranchised farm workers, but the money is actually going toward supporting middle class farmers.
“The primary focus and beneficiary [of fair trade] is the small farmer, who, in turn, is defined as a small landowner,” Haight writes. “The poorest segment of the farming community, however, is the migrant laborer who does not have the resources to own land and thus cannot be part of a [fair-trade] cooperative.”
Basically, buying fair trade coffee isn’t fighting poverty.
Not only are you not really helping the poorest people, but, even sweetened with the assurance that the people who brought you your coffee were paid fairly, the quality of the coffee you’re buying is actually shit.
“Low consumer demand for Fair Trade coffee means that not all of a particular farmer’s coffee, which will be of varying quality, may be sold at the Fair Trade price,” Colleen Haight writes in “The Problem With Fair Trade Coffee,” an article in the summer 2011 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review. “To maximize his income, therefore, he will choose to sell his lower quality coffee as Fair Trade coffee,” while letting the good stuff fetch even higher prices than the fair-trade price floor.
So it wasn’t your imagination- fair trade coffee does actually sometimes sort of taste like the water that accumulates in a used ashtray after a rainstorm.
What’s a fair trade-minded consumer to do? Unfortunately, for the time being, you’ll have to rely on the new fair trade rating system being developed by Starbucks and other massive coffee retailers. Either that or spend your days forsaking coffee entirely and plodding through the day half asleep and cranky.