Fair Trade or Fairly Traded?

FairTrade? Fairly Traded? What is the difference?

Is your coffee a commodity crop?

Traditionally, coffee has been a commodity product almost exclusively grown in poor tropical countries. Farmers sell their crops to local cooperatives or wholesalers who then sell them on for commodity coffees. Farmers of commodity crops are usually paid poorly and their workers can be in dire economic circumstances.

The FairTrade label was developed to help commodity coffee farmers (and now farmers of many commodity agricultural products such as sugar, cocoa, cotton, spices, and grains) receive a premium price and to ensure that farm workers are paid fairly. FairTrade products are sold to a cooperative and are mixed in with crops from other local farms.

FairTrade is a great initiative. However, it is geared towards social issues and commodity coffees rather than to specialty coffees. There is no implication for the quality of the bean.

Or is your coffee a specialty crop?

Most premium coffees are made from beans that are directly traded - sold directly from the farmers to the roaster or importer. The farmers are able to command a premium, much above the FairTrade price, because their crops are special and are higher quality. (This link summarizes direct trade fairly well.)

What about Sparkplug Coffee and FairTrade? 

As a relatively new company, Sparkplug Coffee has not been certified with FairTrade or any similar organizations. This means that when we buy beans that are FairTrade, we aren’t authorized to say this or to use the FairTrade logo.

Also, our coffees are blends of several beans. Within each blend can be a mix of coffees with different certifications - FairTrade, Rainforest Alliance, Organic and others.

We make a real effort at Sparkplug Coffee to find premium coffees from growers following sustainable farming practices and fair labour practices.

And we've found great suppliers across the coffee world. Sometimes this includes FairTrade beans from co-ops that are producing very unusual and delicious coffees. Most often, it means coffees where the farmers have direct relationships with our importers here in Canada. And, of course, are producing special and delicious coffees that command a premium price because they are so good!