As it turns out, your five-minute stop at Starbucks can be a political statement.
The ubiquitous chain, which is perhaps the most prominent vendor of fair trade certified coffee, is one in the ever-growing crop of stores that allows patrons to use their purchasing power to support the ideals of the fair trade movement.
Although praised by human rights groups and often scorned by big business, the idea of “fair trade” remains a difficult concept to explain accurately and comprehensively. Despite a fuzzy working definition, the fair trade approach to agricultural markets universally bills itself as a means to lift up farmers in developing regions and to advance sound environmental practices. According to TransFair USA, an independent national group that certifies fair trade products, a “fair trade certified label” indicates that “strict economic, social and environmental criteria were met in the production and trade of an agricultural product.” Internationally, the global network that comprises the World Fair Trade Organization, or WFTO, defines Fair Trade as “a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade” and that “contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers.”
Moreover, the Fairtrade Foundation, Oxfam and Traidcraft have agreed that fair trade is defined as “a trading partnership” that “aims at sustainable development for excluded and disadvantaged producers” and that “seeks to do this by providing better trading conditions, by awareness raising and by campaigning.”
Fair trade ensures that farmers are paid an appropriate price for their products and seeks to help farms develop as transparent businesses by cutting out middlemen and allowing importers to buy directly from producers. In order to be certified by TransFair USA, farms cannot used forced child labor and must guarantee workers a living wage and a safe and democratic environment. Fair trade farms are also prohibited from using damaging agrochemicals and GMOs (genetically modified organisms), and TransFair USA even offers additional premiums for organic goods. The WFTO lists brands, business and organizations in a Fair trade index when they have demonstrated the “10 Standards of Fair Trade,” which include transparency and accountability, fair product prices, nondiscrimination, environmental sustainability and the prohibition of forced labor.
Fair trade products — which include coffee, tea, herbs, chocolate, vanilla, fruit, flowers, sugar and rice — have become increasingly popular as the movement’s message has been spread, and they can now be found at countless stores, both corporate and independent. In fact, Northwestern students who wish to support the Fair Trade cause need look no further than downtown Evanston:
- Starbucks launched an initiative last year to make it the largest purchaser of Fair Trade Certified coffee in the world.
- Peet’s Coffee & Tea sells a Fair Trade Blend that includes coffee from Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Guatemala.
- Argo Tea, according to Pete Kazanas of the Evanston branch, believes that fair trade products “promote sustainability, as well as higher social and economic standards” and thus the company serves a “Fair trade, organic coffee blend with coffee beans from Ethiopia, East Timor, Sumatra, Colombia and Nicaragua.”
- Ben & Jerry’s flavors its coffee ice cream with fair trade certified coffee extract from a cooperative in Mexico, and it purchases fair trade vanilla from Ugandan farmers and fair trade cocoa powder from cooperatives in the Dominican Republic and the Ivory Coast.
- Einstein Bros Bagels offers a fair trade coffee blend.
- Sherman Avenue’s Unicorn Cafe sells fair trade chocolate, coffee and tea.
- Whole Foods Market has “Whole Trade Guarantee” products that have been purchased from producers who practice eco-friendly farming and who provide living wages and healthy working conditions. Carieann Sommers of the Evanston Whole Foods marketing department encourages students to stop by the store this month, as February is Whole Trade Month and a variety of Whole Trade products are currently on display.
Still, despite Evanston’s fair trade resources, the college student budget may seem a bit too tight for fair trade shopping.
“Buying fair trade products is seen as a luxury for people with money,” says Neal Emery, a Weinberg sophomore. “But I actually think it’s doable. I’m very supportive of fair trade and I think we should be conscious of where the things we buy come from. Plus, it’s easy to find fair trade products around here, so if you can afford to shop fair trade, then you definitely should.”
Click here for more information on fair trade.