Fairtrade & the Human Rights of Coffee Workers and Producers

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Coffee is the second most globally traded commodity second only to oil therefore the market is extremely large. This leads to a huge coffee farming industry. In recent years, there has been a large push for awareness of the process a product undergoes to get to the consumer. My family and I sincerely enjoy freshly roasted coffee. My mother and father were recently in Panama and decided to purchase a coffee farm with the goal of creating a sustainable retirement home for themselves in the future. They also became aware of the issues surrounding the workers who live and work on the farms in the area and decided that one of their goals would be to provide fair housing and pay for the workers on their farm. I was inspired by this to learn more about the situation and found information regarding Fairtrade practices and goals. They were founded on many principles including that of upholding human rights of the people involved in producing the products they certify. I found some allegations regarding the legitimacy of the company, most interestingly from one of the farmers my parents met with in Panama. This led me to question the company and then to my research question of ‘How well does Fairtrade uphold the human rights of coffee workers and producers?


Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International (FLO) is a global organization which is responsible for labeling the products which become Fairtrade Certified and carry the Fairtrade seal.[1] Throughout the late 80s and early 90s various ‘Fair Trade’ organizations were created across Europe and North America. Fair Trade was defined by the International Federation for Alternative Trade (IFAT) as: . […] a trading partnership based on dialogue, transparency and respect that seeks greater equity in International trade. it contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers- especially in the south. Fair Trade organizations (backed by consumers) are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising, and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade.[2] In 1997, the FLO was established to join all the labeling organizations under one umbrella and unify certification regulations.[3] The original Fairtrade certification mark was created and used to signify products which met Fairtrade guidelines and requirements in 2002. The producer representatives also joined the FLO Board of Directors in the same year. In 2004 FLO split into two sections, FLO and FLO-CERT with the FLO setting standards and FLO-CERT inspecting to insure that producers and traders were abiding by standards. This was to insure that they would uphold the UN Declared human right to “a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and of his family” along with the right to “just and favorable conditions” in the work place.[4] In 2007, FLO became ISEAL certified and producers became more involved as full members of the Board and co-owners of FLO, accompanied by a 47% increase in sales of Fairtrade Certified goods.[5] Fairtrade International was spread mostly by word of mouth and by the customer learning what to look for, asking for the product, and then the retailer beginning to carry the product. Groups such as World Development Movement, Oxfam, and many religious organizations backed the company. This increased the public awareness and contributed to their credible reputation as a philanthropist organization. Eventually, Fairtrade grew to benefit from over 5 million farmers located in over 58 developing countries. The awareness of the certification grows exponentially each year and purchasing rates increase in a related manner.[6] The FLO is structured as “a non-profit, multi- stakeholder body that is responsible for the strategic direction of Fairtrade, sets Fairtrade standards and supports...
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