Combating Global Poverty with a Cup of Coffee
Millions of people in the developing world struggle to survive on just a couple of dollars a day. Fair trade claims that buying fair-trade labeled coffee is a way to help the poor. But is it the best way? Professor Colleen Haight has been researching fair-trade for the past 10 years; she’s also spent time on coffee plantations in Central America talking with the coffee farmers there about their experiences. She says that while fair trade has done a lot to increase consumer awareness, it may not be the best way to actually help the poor.
Fair-trade coffees cost a little bit more than necessary and the extra profit is returned to the farmer. Fair trade farmers are small landowners, but migrant workers—who are much poorer than any landowner—do not benefit from fair trade. Fair-trade farmers are required to pay migrant workers the minimum wage in their country, but that’s already the law.
Prof. Haight says there is a better way to help these poor migrant workers. You can help them by buying premium coffees instead of fair trade coffee. Premium coffee beans are harvested with greater care and fetch higher prices at the market. As a result, migrant workers receive higher pay working for farms that produce premium coffees. Premium coffees and fair-trade coffees cost about the same amount, but buying premium coffees does more to help the poor than buying fair-trade labeled coffees. You have a limited amount of money; you should be able to use it in a way that maximizes the benefits to the poor.