Can fair trade create a more sustainable coffee economy?

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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    Catherine Cheney

    Catherine Cheney is a Senior Reporter for Devex. She covers the West Coast of the U.S., focusing on the role of technology and innovation in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. And she frequently represents Devex as a speaker and moderator. Prior to joining Devex, Catherine earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale University, worked as a web producer for POLITICO and reporter for World Politics Review, and helped to launch NationSwell. Catherine has reported from all over the world, and freelanced for outlets including the Atlantic and the Washington Post. She is also the West Coast ambassador for the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit that trains and connects journalists to cover responses to problems.