01 Sep Fair Trade: Is It The Right Choice For San Francisco and San Jose Coffee Drinkers?
When shopping for coffee throughout the Bay Area including San Francisco and San Jose you’ve probably noticed that some coffee packages mention “Fair Trade.” There’s a good chance you already know what this means. But in case you don’t, let’s take a minute and discuss it.
Many coffee roasters and retailers today are selling “Fair Trade” coffee. PVS Vending carries some Fair Trade coffees through its office coffee service. The Fair Trade logo signifies the product has been grown in a fair or sustainable manner.
The Fair Trade movement has been active throughout the Bay Area including San Francisco and San Jose for more than two decades. Since Fair Trade coffee came on the scene, other “causes” have emerged as well. Fair Trade remains one of the better known causes associated with coffee, and its popularity is increasing.
Under the Fair Trade model, producers at coffee co-ops charge a premium for the coffee and the extra charge is intended to support coffee workers and the environment. Beyond supporting fair wages, Fair Trade also promotes social and environmental goals such as women’s empowerment, rainforest protection, and organic farming.
Among the organizations that certify Fair Trade coffee, the three best known are Fair Trade USA, Fair Trade International and the Foundation of Small Organized Producers.
Along with Fair Trade, throughout the Bay Area including San Francisco and San Jose coffee consumers can buy coffees certified by Rainforest Alliance, Utz, the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center of the National Zoo, and the USDA. The certification organizations use different criteria. All of these certifications signify some aspects of coffee sustainability.
It makes sense for any industry selling an agricultural product to invest in responsible harvesting, packaging and delivery practices.
But as Fair Trade and other “cause” programs noted above have grown over the years, questions have arisen about the reliability of these certifications and how much consumers really care about them. Certifications also add costs that they need to weigh against their supposed benefits.
Some coffee roasters believe non-certified coffee can accomplish the goals of Fair Trade certified coffee. Hence, they think the certification is misleading. In addition, some believe the certification’s reliability has suffered because of mismanagement by the certifying organizations.
Others say that while the certification might not be perfect, it provides a third party verification that the coffee meets certain standards.
PVS Vending recognizes all of these concerns, and as a coffee specialist, we want all throughout the Bay Area including San Francisco and San Jose coffee consumers to understand their choices as fully as possible.
As a movement grows, problems and criticisms are likely to follow. And Fair Trade is growing.
So is Fair Trade coffee a good choice for the Bay Area including San Francisco and San Jose coffee consumer?
Ric Rinehart, executive director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, said in an article in Fresh Cup Magazine earlier this year that all the coffee cause programs are an attempt to distribute the coffee industry’s revenue in a way that fairly rewards all players. Coffee causes are an indicator of what Rinehart calls the “systemic deficiency that the coffee industry suffers from.” The systemic deficiency he sees is that the commerce system does not deliver sufficient rewards back to the coffee farmer.
Rinehart acknowledges that some of the criticisms of Fair Trade are valid. But he is hesitant to say the programs have failed. He thinks that thanks to these programs, the coffee industry has raised public awareness about the farmers’ conditions and the environment.
The choice to buy Fair Trade and other coffee causes rests completely with the Bay Area including San Francisco and San Jose coffee consumer.