Advocacy Groups Persuade Procter & Gamble to Offer Fair Trade Certified Coffee
Largest US Coffee Company to Pay Farmers a Fair Price
Impoverished coffee farmers around the world won a victory when Procter & Gamble, the largest seller of coffee in the United States, announced on September 15, 2003 that it would begin offering Fair Trade Certified coffee though its specialty coffee division, Millstone.
Procter & Gamble’s agreement to sell Fair Trade coffee came in response to a grassroots campaign by Global Exchange, Oxfam America, Co-op America, the Interfaith Fair Trade Initiative, and socially responsible shareholders calling on the corporation to assist the millions of coffee farmers hammered by the collapse of coffee prices. For the last year and a half, thousands of people across the U.S. have sent letters, faxes and emails to Procter & Gamble demanding that it offer Fair Trade coffee. Now, thanks to the efforts of people of conscience around the country, more farmers than ever before will be guaranteed a living wage for their harvests.
“With world market prices as low as they are right now, we see that many farmers cannot maintain their families and their land anymore,” said Jerónimo Bollen, Director of Manos Campesinas, a Fair Trade coffee cooperative in Guatemala, upon hearing the news. “We need Fair Trade now more than ever.”
Over the past three years, the price of coffee has fallen almost 50 percent, bringing global prices to a 30-year low. The price collapse has resulted in a humanitarian crisis for 25 million coffee growing families in more than 50 developing countries. Unable to cover their costs of production, small farmers cannot earn enough to feed their families, send their children to school, or purchase essential medicines. Some farmers have been forced to leave their lands.
Fair Trade certified coffee helps ease the plight of small farmers by guaranteeing growers $1.26 per pound for their harvest. The price floor enables farmers to make a dignified living and while providing new opportunities to cultivate the highest quality organic coffees.
Today some 10,000 retail outlets and 200 universities across the U.S offer Fair Trade coffee. That’s a dramatic improvement from just three years ago, when only a handful of coffee companies sold the socially responsible blend. But despite the growing popularity of Fair Trade coffee, demand has not yet matched supply: Last year about 200 million lbs. of certified Fair Trade coffee was sold at normal market prices because of insufficient demand.
By increasing the volume of Fair Trade coffee sold in the U.S., the Procter & Gamble agreement will help to close that gap, extending to more farmers the benefits of the Fair Trade system.
Procter & Gamble’s Millstone brand will immediately offer Fair Trade coffee to wholesale accounts such as universities, restaurants, and hospitals. Millstone will eventually begin retailing Fair Trade coffee in supermarkets nationwide. P&G has committed to a major marketing effort to increase the volume of Millstone’s Fair Trade sales to at least two to three million pounds within two years.
Unfortunately, P&G’s Folgers brand will not be offering Fair Trade coffee. This is a disappointment for Global Exchange and our allies, since we had hoped to bring Fair Trade to the millions of coffee drinkers who don’t consume specialty coffees. Nevertheless, the P&G agreement marks an important victory—not only for farmers—but also for the larger corporate accountability movement.
Procter & Gamble’s announcement shows that, when united, citizens can force even the largest corporations to change their business practices. The P&G victory proves that citizen action—the efforts of people just like you—is as powerful as the deepest corporate pockets.
“When human rights groups, people of faith and consumers work together, we can successfully pressure giant corporations to change business as usual,” said Deborah James, director of GX’s Global Economy programs. “Because of grassroots pressure, P&G is now more accountable to the needs of impoverished coffee farmers.”