Fairtrade Coffee Brands: Ethical Concerns

For many, coffee is more than a wake-up beverage. It’s a far-reaching product that extends to all parts of the world. Unfortunately, this tiny product is shrouded in a lot of ethical issues.

Firstly, coffee is a pump and dump commodity; it’s very unstable. This affects coffee planters as it makes it difficult to predict their income, which depends on variable harvest and global demand.

Secondly, the coronavirus pandemic created a topsy-turvy coffee price action: hitting a 13-year low by Q2 of 2020 before rallying by 35% by September and crashing 10% in December. This has led to growing pains within the farming community, especially about cash flow and storage. Growers are increasingly worried about the future of their crops due to the start-stop demand from homes, offices, and restaurants in 2020 and 2021.

For context, coffee is the second most-exchanged commodity in the world (behind petroleum) and is estimated to be around $100B in market cap at the New York Stock Exchange. Paradoxically, it is far from profitable for the growers who grow it. Farmers get under 10% of the retail price for a pack of coffee beans. Think about how much support we’d be rendering if the coffee was ethically harvested and sold.

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Thirdly is the issue of climate change, which holds the key to the future of coffee. Dry weather is needed for coffee cherries to blossom into mature beans that are set for harvest. This requirement can mainly be met at the “Bean Belt,” around the equator – between Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. Countries like Brazil, Nicaragua, Vietnam, Ethiopia fall within this region.

Lately, it’s been raining rather too lavishly in Vietnam and not quite sufficiently in Brazil. When it’s time for harvesting in Vietnam, the rains have set the coffee yield back. Southern Brazil has had to deal with unusual dryness that has affected coffee plant flowering, which is usually buoyed by heavy early rainfall that typifies coffee-growing areas of the globe. The micro-climatological cause is still unidentified, and the rains can address the situation. Still, one thing is for sure: the cloud of uncertainty hovering around Brazil’s weather is preventing coffee from reaching its late 2020 highs.

These concerns have created a consciousness in the minds of growers, industrialists, and consumers to develop an approach to business that has given numerous fair trade brands. But before unraveling the pacesetters in the world of fairly traded coffee, let’s learn the basics.

Fairtrade Coffee Brands: Ethical Concerns

What is fair trade coffee?

Fairtrade coffee is produced under strict standards that promote ecological stability while ensuring that the people involved in the production are treated and paid fairly.

According to the World Fair Trade Organization, “Fair Trade is a trading alliance hinged upon dialog, transparency, and respect, that seeks more plurality in international transactions.”

Essentially, fairtrade coffee is coffee that emerges as a collaborative effort between producers and coffee growers to provide a decent wage in exchange for quality products.

So, whenever you see that little “Fair Trade” or “Fair Trade International” sign on your coffee bag, know that you’ve joined the cause for equity, righteousness, and appreciation for profit-relaxed coffee businesses all around the world, especially for oppressed regions of Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Pacific, and the Middle East.

Characteristics of fair trade coffee

Direct trade

Importers buy directly from fair trade grower cooperatives, thereby bypassing middlemen and propelling the growers to increase production capacity to thrive in the marketplace.

Community development

A large chunk of the money generated from fair trade practices is devoted to social and rural development projects like bursaries, healthcare initiatives, and quality enhancement programs.

Some generic examples of community development accomplishments:

  • In Uganda, The Gumutindo Coffee Cooperative is an alliance of subscription-oriented trade and craft companies. They have 16 major societies covering over 10,000 coffee planters. Through the training they received, the women learned that they could own land as men did. The association also inculcated a savings culture among the women. The groups started savings pools, and with the amassed funds, they purchased farm inputs like fertilizers, pesticides, and home supplies.
  • The CECOVASA union, Peru, which assists members from Quechua and Aymara native peoples in enhancing the quality of their coffee and helping them transition to certified organic production.
  • The CECOCAFEN union of Nicaragua, inaugurating a reproductive health project that offers tests for the causal virus of cervical cancer.

Ethical business practices

Many people feel that fair trade is just an excuse for companies to favor customers who are clamoring for ethically accountable and sustainable coffee.

Granted, fair trade is desirable for businesses insofar as it depends on trade. But, if there were no trade, there would be none of the fair trade benefits that we see today. Fairtrade transcends certifications and putting up a smiley face at photoshoots with rural dwellers. It is a partnership between producers, consumer rights organizations, and the entire supply chain joining hands to precipitate a sustainable approach to business.

Farmer empowerment

Coffee growers and farmers across the globe are besieged by several problems like abject impoverishment, food shortage, climate change and diseases, low and unstable market rates, middlemen and information disparity, alongside adverse working conditions, labor rights infringements, and labor drain as new generations abandon farming to vie for a better living in cities and overseas.

With fair trade, growers are inspired to proactively resolve these issues and create enduring business ventures and progressive communities.

The importance of fair trade

It tells you the origin of the product

Fairtrade coffee certification gives you information about the source of your coffee. Fairtrade coffee comes from all the ends of the earth. They all have one thing in common: the growers get paid a fair wage, while the community and the environment enjoy sustainable growth.

It promotes ecological sustainability.

Malicious agrochemicals and GMOs are abandoned to promote farming techniques that are sustainable to the environment and the farmers’ health. The farmers do this by taking inter-planting plant species that’ll foster soil fecundity while safeguarding it from erosion. Focused environmental initiatives like water resources management, waste disposal management and guidelines against cultivation in conservation areas are taken towards environmental management.

It eases the hardship of farmer families

Fairly traded coffee improves the living conditions of farming families in underdeveloped regions directly via honest pricing, rural development, and ecological custodianship. The farmers exchange their harvests through long-term agreements with corporate investors while gaining deeper insights into improving their business and outsmart the competition in a volatile marketplace.

Earning a decent wage allows the growers to cater to their families’ needs like feeding, accommodation, and healthcare.

This business concept helps underserved people get out of poverty through trade instead of foreign aid while enriching producers, coffee drinkers, the marketplace, and Mother Earth.

Gives more power to the consumer

With the fair trademark of equity, coffee consumers vote with their dollar by feeling assured that they do the right thing. Everyone leads busy lives, and we all know the just path, but we’re too busy to be physically involved. Consumers become proponents of fair trade when they feel that they are making an impact with every single purchase.

Fair trade coffee brands

Equal Exchange

For over 25 years, worker-owned Equal Exchange has been releasing high-grade coffee. The cooperative has more than 100 controllers, each holding equal equity and voting rights in the business process. Their ethics-centric principles have been transmuted to that sweet signature blend users love. You’ll get to enjoy a creamy mouthfeel with notes of chocolate brownies, roasted nuts, and caramel. The brand has earned top marks for uniqueness and care for people and the planet.


Specialty: Organic

Weight: 0.75 lbs

Ingredients: 100% Arabica coffee

What we liked

  • Balanced medium and French roast type
  • 100% fairly traded condiments, designated Organic by the USDA
  • Gourmet standard coffee
  • Kosher certified

What could be better

  • The overly fairly ground state may be undesirable

Preparation suggestions:

Add 1 to 2 tbsp of the powder to 6 oz. of water. If it’s too strong or looks light, you can tinker it until it comes out just right.

Mt Whitney Coffee Roasters

Mt Whitney Coffee Roasters is committed to milling the finest specialty coffee to everyone across the entire globe. Their mission is to build enduring relations in the supply chain, from farm to cup. They only roast 100% organic, small family-sourced (micro lots), shade-grown coffee to protect farmers and the environment. The imported coffees are specially roasted by hand every day at the foot of Mt. Whitney by the Master Roaster and a qualified Q Grader to maintain the product’s efficacy.

Fairtrade Coffee Brands: Ethical Concerns

Small-batch roasting is one of the best ways to roast coffee beans as it liberates the coffee’s natural flavor, and the growers at Mt Whitney, CA, have mastered this style down to an art. Each product is cupped multiple times in their coffee laboratory to ascertain the ideal roast properties to produce the best notes.

As a non-profit organization with a compassionate heart, they assist African children through charitable initiatives like Father’s Heart International. The project has built schools in Zambia to educate disenfranchised kids who have no chance of getting an education. The brand also has a feeding project like every school. To date, they have delivered 28 million meals to hungry kids.


Specialty: Organic

Weight: 5 lbs

Ingredients: USDA-certified 100% Arabica coffee

Dark French roast; caffeinated

What we liked

  • Whole bean
  • Light medium roast type
  • Tasting notes of dark chocolate and brown sugar
  • 100% fairly traded condiments, designated Organic by the USDA
  • Available online
  • Great pick for those with a sensitive gut
  • Works with any coffee maker

What could be better

  • Doesn’t make a thick cup of coffee
  • May be sweeter than the average cup of Joe

Preparation recommendation

It can be used with a Keurig coffee maker with a reusable single cup basket to knock up a healthy cup of coffee.

Café Direct

For over 25 years, Café Direct has been an original pioneer fair trade brand. They only produce fair trade coffee and go above and beyond to purchase and pay an extra organic premium rate (wherever they can). They are also channelizing half of their profits into a farmer-owned charity that has connections to a network of 600,000 planters worldwide.

Try Café Direct’s Organic Machu Picchu. It’s rich, dark, and velvety, with the flavor nuances of dark chocolate. This Arabica blend is derived from the high terrains of the Inca heartlands of the Andes.


Specialty: Organic

Weight: 3.3 lbs; pack of 6

Ingredients: 100% whole bean fairly traded coffee

What we liked

  • Rich, dark and smooth coffee
  • Whole bean, freshly ground coffee
  • Medium-intensity coffee roast
  • 100% fairly traded condiments, designated
  • Available online

What could be better

  • There are no noteworthy downsides to this product

Kicking Horse

Kicking Horse coffee is certified Fair Trade and is by far some of the finest bagged coffee beans you’ll see. Their Arabica beans are mountain-roasted, shade-grown, and 100% certified organic, ranging from dark and tasty to bright and zesty. They are making it just and fair for both producers and consumers. The brand is committed to community empowerment, upholding good practices that are sustainable for the planet and posterity.

Users have widely acclaimed the Kicking Ass blend for its bold wake-up invitation qualities. This headline coffee with a staggering 7,000 comments on Amazon Is explosive thanks to its smokey, chocolatey flavor with undertones of vanilla.


Specialty: Organic

Weight: 0.625 lbs; pack of 1

Ingredients: 100% whole bean fairly traded coffee

Diet: Kosher compliant

What we liked

Its smokey, chocolatey feel with vanilla undertones makes it a compelling drink

Whole bean, freshly ground coffee

Dark roast type

100% organic, fairly traded ingredients with a view to combat climate change

Available online

Gift wrap inside

What could be better

There are no noteworthy downsides

Preparation recommendation

Suitable for French press, pour-over, cold brew, and drip machine.

Seattle’s Best Coffee

Seattle Best Coffee is a coffee roaster dedicated to providing first-grade coffee in line with the fair trade code. Their coffee is recognized for their heavy body due to dark tones that increase power through the cup, leading to a complex climax.

They source their coffee from Indonesia as well as South and Central America. Only the best beans are selected by the master blenders who create superior blends for an inviting flavor and mollifying taste.

Consistency is enforced with each blending sequence, and they don’t taste the product once or twice – the beans pass through three crucial stages. The final product is isolated masterfully, enriched with an astonishingly flavorsome taste.

The 6th Avenue Bistro Fair Trade Organic blend is the company’s #4 bestseller with over 10,000 purchases on Amazon. It comprises 100% Arabica beans. You will know that this brew is special from the very first sip. The 6th Avenue Bistro dark-roasted coffee has a perfectly balanced roast mouthfeel. The blend is specially crafted for people who appreciate smooth, strong coffee to make headway throughout their day.


Specialty: Organic

Weight: 0.75 lbs

Ingredients: 100% Arabica bean, fairly traded coffee

Diet: for home and professional use

What we liked

  • Smooth-roasted coffee
  • Makes an excellent espresso
  • Gluten free
  • Available for subscription online
  • Affordable

What could be better

  • Product may not store very well

Preparation recommendation

The recipe for a smoking cup of coffee is 1tbsp (5g) of powdered coffee for every 6 oz. (180ml) of water.

Classicists who acclaim this coffee suggest brewing with a French press or drip maker, especially those who like a power-packed cup with depleted acidity. It can be used with cream and is suitable for business meetings.


Why should I buy fair trade coffee?

You should buy fair trade coffee as a way of honoring the hard work of growers that are at the takeoff point of the supply chain.

Fairtrade is a pragmatic way of undoing the alienation and environmental degradation associated with mercantilist profiteering. It’s a way of bridging the gap between the underprivileged global south and the consuming global north. This alternative form of trade is transformative in how it lifts families out of the throes of poverty. It offers them a chance to improve their decayed infrastructure, giving their children a chance to experience proper education.

When you purchase fair trade coffee, you support coffee companies who tailor strategic decisions that improve the existence of underserved people and the environment instead of the vainglorious mantra of low costs and high gains.

How much fair trade coffee is there?

The supply of fairly traded coffee is tremendous; buyers are what’s in shortage. In 2018, Fair Trade USA documented 176 million certified fair-trade coffee. They also acknowledged over 800,000 coffee growers in the fair trade network. Still, only 35% of the available produce was traded according to fair trade rules.

What are the projections for fair trade coffee?

Sustainable Coffee Challenge advocates for sustainable coffee sourcing, has set up an industry-wide campaign to turn coffee into the first 100% sustainable product. In the same vein, Target has committed to transforming its Archer Farms brand coffee to fair trade by 2022. Over 100 retail stores and cafes have made similar commitments to increase market access for farmers who wish to sell their coffee sustainably.

Final thoughts

Farmers and artisans in developing countries do not have the same access to markets as companies in developed countries. The development of these fair trade brands serves as a vehicle of sustainable growth for all the players in the coffee business, as they prioritize the commercial, social, and environmental implications of their every step.



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