Can fair trade create a more sustainable coffee economy?

By Catherine Cheney 12 January 2016

Rodney North, director of marketing and external relations at Fairtrade America.

Coffee is often depicted as the poster child for the fair trade movement, which seeks to improve the social and environmental standards of a range of commodities. And the spectrum of stickers on a bag of coffee beans today are symbols for just how complex fair trade efforts have become.

“Fair trade is acting in a marketplace that is largely disconnected, anonymous, sort of faceless and consequently a lot of bad things happen,” said Rodney North, director of marketing and external relations at Fairtrade America, in an interview with Devex.

The fair trade movement sets a floor price for commodities like coffee, then certifiers like Fairtrade International work to ensure that the transactions are benefiting the farmer and the community.

One criticism of fair trade is that given the cost of entry, certification does not function as a tool for development. But North said it is just one of growing list of approaches needed to reach a more stable, connected, sustainable coffee economy. There are many areas where the movement intersects with global development and Fairtrade America is adding programs on gender, child labor, climate, and living wages, he said.

For more on fair trade, and how it differs from direct trade, watch the video above.

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About the author

Catherine cheney devex
Catherine Cheneycatherinecheney

Catherine Cheney covers the West Coast global development community for Devex. Since graduating from Yale University, where she earned bachelor's and master's degrees in political science, Catherine has worked as a reporter and editor for a range of publications including World Politics Review, POLITICO, and NationSwell, a media company and membership network she helped to build. She is also an ambassador for the Solutions Journalism Network and the Franklin Project at the Aspen Institute.

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