One of the most common Fairtrade products, coffee is also a source of livelihood for 125m people across the world. The Fairtrade Foundation estimates that 25m smallholder farmers produce 80% of the world’s coffee. Weather conditions, diseases and other factors can result in price volatility, a key challenge for these producers.
With Fairtrade coffee producer organisations are guaranteed to receive at least the Fairtrade minimum price for their coffee, which aims to cover the costs of production. Through their producer organisations, including co-operatives, farmers can also receive the additional Fairtrade Premium, which they can use to invest in business and community improvements.
The organisations also have to invest 25% or more of the premium to improve productivity and quality. According to the Fairtrade Foundation, in 2012-13, certified coffee farmers earned an estimated £32m in Premiums that were invested in farmer services and community projects.
The story of Fairtrade started in the late 1980s at a time when the price of coffee had collapsed. The campaign was a response to the struggle of Mexican coffee farmers. In 1988 a Dutch NGO, Solidaridad and a Mexican co-operative called the Union of Indigenous Communities of the Isthmus region (UCIRI) created the first fair trade certification initiative, named Max Havelaar.
The label initially applied only to coffee in the Netherlands, but similar labelling initiatives started to emerge soon afterwards across Europe. In 1997 these organisations came together to form the Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International (Fairtrade International), of which the UK’s Fairtrade Foundation is a member.
Fairtrade sales have decreased by 3.7% in 2015 in the UK, due to the challenges affecting UK retailers. However, sales of coffee, the focus of Fairtrade’s Great British Fairness Debate campaign, increased 2% by volume.
- Our Fairtrade coffee taste test: which coffees come out on top?
- Our look at Taylors of Harrogate and Equal Exchange: how co-ops can help small scale farmers.
- You can find all of our Fairtrade Fortnight coverage here.