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What is Fair Trade and Why is it Important?

Good questions. Fair Trade practices are important for many reasons—social equity, environmental issues and economic stability that address national security and sustainability.

Here’s more of the story about the small independent farmers. They grow the second most traded commodity in the world using sustainable shade grown ways planting coffee bushes beneath the rainforest trees without destroying the rainforest canopy. This method of growing coffee, rather than clearing the existing vegetation, stabilizes soils and preserving the rainforest habitat. One point that the recent news has not focused on is directly related to Fair Trade—if people can earn a reasonable living wage for their crops and the products of their labor, they will not have to go across borders to find other work. Fair Trade purchases ensure that these coffee growers receive a fair price for their products so they can support their families and allow their children to attend school. This also provides a sustainable future for the rainforest.

Why is Fair Trade Important?

  • Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world so how it is purchased makes a big difference to the growers.
  • Fair Trade ensures that small independent farmers are paid a fair price for their work. 
  • Paying fair wages for their coffee allows subsistence coffee farmers to support their families and send their children to school
  • Small independent coffee growers use shade-grown farming methods that leave the rainforest intact to preserve fragile rainforest soils and threatened habitats.

Look for  when you purchase coffee and other imported goods to support Fair Trade.

Just click on tab for “Full length show” to story of why Fair Trade is important and how one college campus made a huge difference:

The need for Fair Trade Practices is evident in all coffee growing countries and regions of the world.  Read a first hand account from Kenya:

 “Kenyan coffee farmers are not earning enough to adequately feed, clothe and educate their families. Many Kenyans who currently work in the coffee industry, as either pickers or plant workers, are earning what amounts to one Canadian dollar per day. Farmers can earn a little more, or a little less, depending on the price they get for the coffee at auction. As a result of recent low prices, some are finding now that they are operating their farms at a loss. Others have given up coffee farming in search of a better crop that will make them some money.

So why is Fair Trade coffee important? Why are more and more coffee shops choosing to sell Fair Trade coffee, especially when it is often more expensive than regular coffee? The answer is simple: Fair Trade coffee supports the farmer by giving the farmer a fair price for their coffee so that they can pay their workers’ wages and still earn enough to live on.

Here is what I was able to gather during my visit to the coffee plantation and factory in Kenya. According to the farmers I spoke with, the average coffee tree can produce between ten and twenty kilograms of beans per year. The farm I was on had approximately 500 trees. Coffee pickers, if they work hard, can earn between seventy to eighty Kenyan shillings per day, which works out to be just slightly more one Canadian dollar per day. The farmer would have to pay the pickers on a daily basis, but the farmer himself wouldn’t get paid until the coffee was sold at auction. The price the farmer would get would depend, then, on how much the coffee is sold for.

If the coffee is sold for a really low price, and the farmer doesn’t make enough money to cover bills, that individual farmer will have to sacrifice. Unfortunately, one of the things that gets cut is school fees. Even though primary school is now free in Kenya, there are still quite a few costs, such as books and uniform that can add up to quite a bit of money. Secondary school is not free; students who attend secondary are still required to pay fees on top of buying uniforms, books and supplies. I visited Muhuti Secondary School across from the coffee factory. At this school, many of the secondary students would attend school for the first term, when the coffee was being harvested, but would have to drop out by the second or third term because of lack of money from the coffee crop; the coffee farmers often wouldn’t make enough off their coffee to pay school fees for a full year. As a result, the education of their children suffers.

In another school we visited, St Thomas secondary school, the administration has decided to allow the students to stay in school, regardless of whether they are able to pay school fees or not. According to the principal there, it is more important to have a literate generation than an illiterate generation, so he chose to keep the students in school, learning. As a result of the students being unable to pay school fees, however, suppliers and teachers have to go without being paid for long periods of time. The teachers at this school showed an amazing dedication to the students, in my opinion, since they continued to show up and teach the students - even going so far as to give extra lessons on Saturday mornings - though many hadn’t been paid in up to three months.

It is important to remember that we live in a world in which getting the best price is paramount. It is so important, in today’s society, to save a buck in order to make a thousand, that the individual worker often gets lost in the shuffle of dollars and cents. The coffee beans, which were so painstakingly harvested and dried, are sold at auction for the best (aka lowest) possible price to the bidding corporation. The large company will then process, package and sell the coffee to consumers at much more than the original purchase price.

Fair Trade ensures that the farmer will get paid a fair price. I’ve met the coffee farmers, I’ve spoken to them and listened to their stories of hardship. Given that the price of coffee is currently very low, the hard times may be about to get harder. After meeting with the farmers, and getting to see the faces of the individuals who put coffee on our tables, I definitely think that it is time to support the farmer, not the corporation. So spend the extra few cents on a cup of java, and support a farmer through Fair Trade.


Several organizations have information about Fair Trade and the need to follow sound trading practices with small independent farmers and producers of goods.

And on a global level, the World Fair Trade Organization defines the problem and offers Ten Standards for Fair Trade:

10 Standards of Fair Trade

About The World Fair Trade Organization
The World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) is the international authority on Fair Trade. They are the world's only Fair Trade network of artisans, farmers, producers, brands and businesses. The job of the WFTO is to audit and monitor all members in order to ensure they are following the 10 principles of Fair Trade.  

 The WFTO's 10 Principles of Fair Trade:

  • Creating opportunities for economically disadvantaged producers:  Fair Trade is a strategy for poverty alleviation and sustainable development. Its purpose is to create opportunities for producers who have been economically disadvantaged or marginalized by the conventional trading system.
  • Transparency and accountability:  Fair Trade involves transparent management and commercial relations to deal fairly and respectfully with trading partners.
  • Capacity building:  Fair Trade is a means to develop producers' independence. Fair Trade relationships provide continuity, during which producers and their marketing organizations can improve their management skills and their access to new markets.
  • Promoting Fair Trade:  Fair Trade Organizations raise awareness of Fair Trade and the possibility of greater justice in world trade. They provide customers with information about the organization, the products, and in what conditions they are made. They use honest advertising and marketing techniques and aim for the highest standards in product quality and packing.
  • Payment of a fair price:  A fair price in the regional or local context is one that has been agreed through dialogue and participation. It covers not only the costs of production but enables production that is socially just and environmentally sound. It provides fair pay to the producers and takes into account the principal of equal pay for equal work by women and men. Fair Traders ensure prompt payment to their partners and, whenever possible, help producers with access to pre-harvest or pre-production financing.
  • Gender Equality:  Fair Trade means that women's work is properly valued and regarded. Women are always paid for their contribution to the production process and are empowered in their organizations.
  • Working conditions:  Fair Trade means a safe and healthy working environment for producers. The participation of children (if any) does not adversely affect their well-being, security, education requirements and need for play and conforms to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as the law and norms in the local context.
  • Child Labor:  Fair Trade Organizations respect the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as local laws and social norms in order to ensure that the participation of children in production processes of fairly traded articles (if any) does not adversely affect their well-being, security, educational requirements and need for play. Organizations working directly with informally organized producers disclose the involvement of children in production.
  • The environment:  Fair trade actively encourages better environmental practices and the application of responsible methods of production.
  • Trade Relations:  Fair Trade Organizations trade with concern for the social, economic and environmental well-being of marginalized small producers and do not maximize profit at their expense. They maintain long-term relationships based on solidarity, trust and mutual respect that contribute to the promotion and growth of Fair Trade. Any interest free pre-payment of at least 50% is made if requested."


Small independent farmers grow the second most traded commodity in the world using sustainable shade grown ways planting coffee bushes beneath the rainforest trees without destroying the canopy stabilizing soils and preserving the rainforest habitat. With Fair Trade purchases you are ensuring that these growers receive a fair price for their coffee so they can support their families and provide education for their children and a future for the rainforest.

So, here are some good answers to those good questions. Instituting Fair Trade practices on a global scale are important for many reasons—social equity, environmental issues and economic stability that address national security concerns and sustainability.

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Last updated: Mon. Oct-24-11, 11:57
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