Recently, I have been doing a bit of research on “Direct Trade” coffee roasters and the issues and challenges surrounding Fair Trade certification via TransFair represented by this now familiar logo:

The general consensus among roasters that have decided to go Direct Trade argue three main points: first, a lack of increase in fair trade premiums paid to farmers; second, the unfairness of concessions made to large businesses who use the Fair Trade label without fair practices; and third, the price of acquiring fair trade certification.

These are valid and important concerns. Personally, I too get a bit wary of Fair Trade certification; it’s use as a marketing strategy; and whether larger corporations who certify some of their products as “Fair Trade” are really 100% fair trade – it is very similar to the organic food movement, where critics argue that formal certification can erode organic standards by providing a legal framework for lobbyists to push for amendments and exceptions favorable to large-scale production, leaving small, independent farmers who are truly organic little incentive to get USDA organic certification due to both cost and principle.

Those who go Direct Trade claim that the money saved from not getting TransFair certifications goes towards paying the farmers and co-ops a higher premium. Moreover, since TransFair will only certify co-operatives, it also allows them to work with single, independent, small scale farmers.

The problem with Direct Trade is one of trust and verification. How do we know a product labeled Direct Trade is truly fair trade? There is currently no set standard for “Direct Trade” and no universal certification process. Some Direct Trade coffee roasters, like Counter Culture, set their own fair trade standards and invite a third-party auditor to come make sure they are meeting their own standards. Other big name Direct Trade coffee roasters include Intelligentia Coffee & Tea and Stumptown Coffee Roasters, while many smaller roasters, some of which were once TransFair certified, have begun to follow suit.

What is your opinion? Does certification really matter? Do you only buy items that have the TransFair logo? Would you buy a product that didn’t have the TransFair logo, but were assured that it was made with fair trade practices?

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GX Online Store Intern