Ethical and sustainable coffee

Coffee is among the most loved and popular beverages to start the day. While coffee lovers are looking for high-quality coffee beans, they are also increasingly becoming more conscious about ethical and eco-friendly practices in the coffee industry. Several brands so far have started working towards a more sustainable and fair-trade business model. Faitrade-certified coffee brands ensure their farmers are paid fairly, have sufficient training and adequate working conditions. These brands are also further focused towards plastic free, carbon neutral working process, using renewable resources and compostable packaging.

Fair trade is an important element in every industry but coffee farmers are one of the most vulnerable to market price fluctuations and fair trade is making sure farmers are protected, which is why many coffee consumers are looking towards brands that ensure fair working practices.

What to look for when buying sustainable coffee? 

There are multiple organisations working to make things better for coffee farmers, and some of those can be recognised/quantified with various labels, slogans, and certifications on the coffee packaging. But it can be hard to figure out what to trust and what to look for; below is a summary of our top recommendations.

Price 

It would be easy to assume that more expensive coffees would pass some of that premium on over to the farmers, but that’s not always the case. You want to make sure it’s the farmers who are paid well, not the retailer or roaster so look for evidence and not 'empty slogans'

The 'Organic' label

Organic coffee is less harmful to the environment, crucial factor for telling apart high-quality coffee. However, when purchasing 'organic' make sure you look for the EU Organic seal, which means that the products are verified by government-accredited inspectors and require that the farm in question use no synthetic pesticides, have a plan to prevent excess erosion (a real problem with coffee plants), and are spaced far enough from non-organic plants so pesticides won’t “accidentally” float over.

Fairtrade certified

Fairtrade was started in response to the dire struggles of Mexican coffee farmers following the collapse of world coffee prices in the late 1980s. With Fairtrade, certified coffee producer organisations are guaranteed to receive at least the Fairtrade Minimum Price for their coffee, which aims to cover their costs of production and act as a safety net when market prices fall below a sustainable level. However, beware that only the complete phrase, “Fair Trade Certified,” carries weight; “fair trade,” alone, without a label from an organisation like Fairtrade International means nothing.

UTZ

This accreditation scheme covers both environmental issues and workers’ rights. Its code of conduct is based on International Labour Organisation conventions and they work with the standards of the global sustainability standard association, the ISEAL Alliance. 

Rainforest Alliance

Also members of ISEAL, for growers to be certified they must adhere to a list of sustainable principles, including conserving local wildlife and water resources, minimising soil erosion and treating workers fairly.

Proudly Made in Africa

The “value added” model addresses some of the issues other certifications miss. Finished products command much higher prices than raw agricultural produce, and being able to get that added value may be one of the most critical factors in enabling producers to escape from poverty. Proudly Made in Africa is a new label focused on this issue, which certifies products as produced entirely in the countries where the original crops were grown. 

Direct Trade

This is different from a traditional accreditation scheme and more of a concept. Union Roasted, which uses this approach, describes its model as “dynamic engagement ... compared to a static a tick-box approach employed by the certification schemes.” They pay a premium 25% greater than the Fairtrade minimum price, plus an equivalent Fairtrade social premium and additional quality premiums for the coffee as they tend to sell better quality coffee that requires increased inputs. 

 

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