Transfair USA, one of twenty FLO members, is an independent, third party certifier, similar to organic certifiers such as Quality Assurance International or California Certified Organic Farmers. In the United States, Transfair USA helps ensure that goods sold under the Fair Trade label meet FLO standards.
Fair Trade standards require that farmers receive fair wholesale prices for their crops. This currently translates to a price of about $1.26 per pound of raw beans in a market that can shell out as little as $.60 per pound.
The Fair Trade movement traces its roots to the Alternative Trade Organizations, or ATOs, of 1940s Europe and North America. These groups were founded by church activists seeking financial relief for struggling refugees.
Certification for Fair Trade goods began in the Netherlands. During the late 1980s, when coffee prices experienced a sharp drop, the Max Havelaar label came into being. The label was named for a fictional Dutch character who was opposed to the exploitation of coffee pickers in Dutch colonies, and sparked the development of Fair Trade certification criteria.
Transfair USA, which has been selling Fair Trade certified coffee since 1999, reports that the product now represents the fastest-growing specialty coffee market in the United States. This is evident, as well, by the growing number of American coffeehouses and retail shops offering Fair Trade concoctions.
Expect to see Fair Trade options increase in the near future. As awareness increases and more and more restaurants and retailers recognize the growing trend, Fair Trade coffee is likely to continue its rapid rise in the specialty java market. There is much to learn about purchasing Fair Trade goods and Fair Trade Month (October 2007), and the FLO’s certification criteria.