Pushing good coffee Beyond merely fair in search of ethical trade

Walking down the supermarket aisle in search of coffee, I have this warm inner glow. If I choose a pack that boasts the Fair Trade logo, or that of any other third-party certifying agency, I’ll be doing good just by paying a little more for something that I am going to buy anyway. The extra I pay will find its way to the poor farmers who grow the coffee, and together enlightened coffee drinkers can make their lives better. But it seems I’m at least somewhat mistaken. Certified coffee is certainly better than nothing, but it isn’t doing as much good as I fondly imagine. And the price premium I pay could be doing a lot more.

In this episode I hear about coffee that’s more ethical than fair, and about some of the ways in which Fair Trade falls short.


  1. The Acteal massacre that prompted Chris Treter to get into coffee is a horrific story that continues to reverberate. Matt Earley, a friend and colleague of Chris, wrote about the struggle for peaceful existence through coffee.
  2. Chris and Matt also feature in a documentary film, Connected by Coffee.
  3. More about Higher Grounds coffee, including the latest news from Congo.
  4. Cooperative Coffees also shares some interesting stories on its website.
  5. A couple of cool additional listens: Episode 4 of Alexis Madrigal’s series on Containers is all about The Hidden Side of Coffee. And the podcast Start-Up recently told the story of probably the world’s most expensive coffee, at $16 a cup.
  6. It’s easy to fall into despair faced with details of how the foods we enjoy are produced, which almost inevitably involve the kind of power imbalance that makes exploitation and maltreatment not only possible but, apparently, inevitable, not only far away in former colonies but much closer to home. In Europe and in America, producers and consumers are thinking about third-party certification for local growers. What more could be done?
  7. Banner and cover photos of coffee cherries in Colombia by Neil Palmer (CIAT).

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