We all like to do our part where we can and when it comes to coffee, we often find ourselves looking for Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, organic, guilt-free coffee.
But do we really know what those fancy labels and certifications actually mean?
Much of our coffee is from places all around the world where the environment is endangered and workers earn only a few dollars for a gruesome day’s work. Coffee farmers have helped cut down tropical forests, and most of them use an abundance of pesticides. Not to mention, child labour is used far more frequently than you can imagine.
Finding coffee beans with labels promising social and environmental improvements is not difficult, especially in a city like ours where niche cafes are as common as a girls in bikinis.
So what is the best option; Fairtrade or Rainforest Alliance Certified?
Fairtrade pushes for better wages, working conditions, local sustainability and FAIR terms of trade for farmers and workers in developing nations.
Rainforest Alliance works towards conserving biodiversity and ensuring sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices, and consumer behaviour.
Both seem pretty decent, right? Let’s learn a bit more.
Fairtrade is a worldwide organisation that aims to ensure that those who are creating the product are paid a fair wage for the work that they accomplish. Around 6 million people in developing countries benefit from the Fairtrade system. It provides them with a fair practice for the product that they sell and also provides for investment in their local community. One more thing: Fairtrade prohibits child labour – yay!
When the product reaches the consumer – or in our case, when we buy our green beans – it is understood that there is a minimum price for each item. Goods can be sold for more depending on quality and demand, but never, ever for less.
However, there is some criticism. Some believe it creates a quality problem, where even poor quality products are still sold, because that minimum price must always be reached. Others say that because there are such strict pre-requisites, that it is restrictive of which producers are able to enter.
When it’s all said and done though, Fairtrade is still seen to be one of the most ethical trade systems available to the consumer.
Rainforest Alliance Certified
Rainforest Alliance is more focused on the environment. It has five areas of focus: keep the forests standing, curb climate change, protect the wildlife, alleviate poverty, and transform business practices. As you can see, the focus here is very much so environmental, with only some of the focus given to the production of goods.
In regards to alleviating poverty, Rainforest Alliance claim the “Rainforest Alliance Certified” seal allows farmers’ products to reach new markets, negotiate better prices, and lift themselves and their communities out of poverty through investing the profit into their own community. Being part of a Rainforest Alliance Certified farm also means that employees receive decent wages (the minimum being $2 a day), respectable housing and healthcare and their children having access to education.
Like Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance does have some criticisms too. It has been dubbed as ‘Fairtrade lite’, allowing companies to be seen as doing something ethical, but at a cheaper price. The Rainforest Alliance Certificate also doesn’t provide a minimum price for goods, meaning that those who are involved are exposed to the fluctuations of the market. The minimum price for employees is also seen as being set too low. Finally, for things such as coffee, the Rainforest Alliance seal is used on products that use as little as 30% certified beans… this means up to 70% of that coffee does not necessarily meet their standards.
So what do I choose?
Personally, I don’t think one is significantly better than the other. Like everything, there are negative aspects. In this situation, Fairtrade has a lack of focus on the environment and quality control, while Rainforest Alliance maybe cares too much about the environment and not enough about its workers. However, products by both are good; great, even. Both are working towards a better world; a more sustainable world where the children and grandchildren of the workers are given much better starts in life.
Come in and have a look at the single origins we offer at Quest Coffee Roasters – some of which are Fairtrade, and some are Rainforest Alliance Certified. Being a coffee roaster where we import our own green beans, we take great time and care in which coffee plantations our products come from.
We all know coffee is a luxury, but appreciating the work that goes into each cup makes it even more special. By enjoying a Fairtrade single origin, you are helping a farmer make a living so that his family can be supported. Or by enjoying a single origin approved by the Rainforest Alliance, you are creating a more sustainable environment for the future generations. Both, in my mind, are equally important.
For more information on how we, at Quest Coffee Roasters, help our friends all over the world, have a read of our other blog articles, or come in and chat with us over a beautiful cup of coffee.
Written by Kristen Bohlsen.