Visualizing Fair Trade Coffee

Daniel Jaffee and Phil Howard
December, 2011

The fair trade certification has entered a period of major change. The recent departure of Fair Trade USA from the international certification system led by Fair Trade International (formerly FLO), and its decision to develop separate US standards that permit certification of plantation-produced coffee, cocoa, and other crops, has thrown the meaning of the US fair trade label into question. The recent appearance of a new certification—The Institute for Marketecology (IMO) “Fair For Life” label—has made the panorama even more complex. These developments follow a decade of struggles within the fair trade movement over the nature of its relationship to large (often transnational) corporate firms, some of which have contributed to the dramatic growth of fair trade sales.

The graphic above shows the world’s 10 largest coffee roasters and the levels of their fair-trade certified coffee purchases, as of 2008 (the last year for which these data are available). Only four of the top 10 firms purchased any fair-trade certified coffee at all: Nestlé, Tchibo, Starbucks, and J.M. Smucker (Smucker purchased fair trade Millstone coffee, part of the Folger’s line, from Procter & Gamble in 2008). Nestlé, which received fair trade certification in 2005 from the Fairtrade Foundation in the U.K. for its “Partner’s Blend” line (a controversial decision within the movement), had the lowest percentage of fair trade purchases, at only 0.0025 percent. Number-two Kraft and number-three Sara Lee sold no fair trade-certified coffee as of 2008.
PDF version of Top Ten World Coffee Roasters: Fair Trade Certified and Non-Fair Trade Purchases, 2008

The graphic above shows selected US coffee roasters based on the year of their entry into fair trade, the percentage of their total coffee purchases that were fair-trade certified as of 2010, and the total volume of their fair trade-certified coffee purchases. For example, the US movement pioneer Equal Exchange began selling fair trade coffee in 1986 (well before formal certification began in the US), and purchased 6 million pounds of green coffee beans in 2010, all of them fair-trade certified.

PDF version of US-Based Coffee Roasters: Fair Trade Certified Purchases

The graphic above focuses on the specialty-coffee giant Starbucks, which was the first large corporate entrant into the fair trade market in 2000. The firm has for several years been the largest purchaser of fair trade coffee worldwide, but it has also placed far greater emphasis on its own, first-party certification system, Café Practices. Starbucks’ engagement with fair trade peaked in 2009 at 39 million pounds, and then declined substantially in 2010 to 21.3 million pounds, just under eight percent of its total green (unroasted) coffee purchases.

PDF version of Starbucks: Global Green Coffee & Fair Trade Certified Coffee Purchases, 2004 to 2010

The graphic above portrays the ownership, licensing, roasting, and branding relationships between various firms selling fair trade-certified coffee in the US. It also distinguishes between 100% fair trade firms and those selling less than 100% fair trade (often far less, as Figures 1, 2, and 3 indicate). For example, Thanksgiving Coffee roasts the beans for Global Exchange’s 100% fair trade-branded coffee. Restaurant and store-brand sales represent a growing proportion of fair trade sales. Starbucks wholly owns Seattle’s Best Coffee, and roasts the coffee for Costco’s Kirkland store brand. Green Mountain Coffee has roasting and/or licensing arrangements with McDonalds, Bruegger’s Bagels, Newman’s Own, and Caribou Coffee. Cooperative Coffees is a 23-roaster association with members in the US and Canada that purchases coffee collectively.
PDF version of US Fair Trade Coffee Brands and Connections, 2011

Together, these graphics represent an effort to capture the level of involvement by large corporate firms in the US and global fair trade coffee markets. Because Fair Trade International and Fair Trade USA do not divulge data on the volumes of fair trade certified products purchased by individual companies—deeming the information a trade secret—basic figures on companies’ participation are challenging to find. This lack of transparency, critics charge, allows companies to engage in “fair-washing”—that is, to use low levels of engagement with fair trade to persuade consumers that they are socially responsible, and/or to distract attention from other socially or environmentally harmful practices. It also blurs the distinction between 100% fair trade companies (many of which have long histories of involvement with producer communities and organizations) and those firms participating in fair trade at merely token levels.

For the US fair trade market, these figures may offer one of the last reliable “snapshots” of large companies’ coffee purchases from fair trade small farmer organizations. Because Fair Trade USA’s new standards will allow roasters to certify coffee from plantations and estates beginning in 2012, it will no longer be possible to distinguish between sources. Companies purchasing little or no smallholder-grown coffee could even have up to 100% of their coffee bearing the fair trade label. Thus, comparisons between the US market and the rest of the world may no longer be possible.

The data in these graphics are drawn from a range of sources: firms’ annual reports and social-responsibility reports; NGO reports on the coffee industry; media coverage; interviews with roaster staff; and responses by companies to email queries for information. Note that there are many more firms purchasing fair-trade certified coffee in the US than portrayed in these charts. We included information for all companies that responded to our information requests, or for which we could find publicly available data; many firms that did not respond to requests are not represented here. All figures represent purchases of green (unroasted) coffee. One important note: for these charts we include as “fair trade certified” coffee certified under either the FLO/Fair Trade International system (including Fair Trade USA as of 2010), or the new IMO “Fair for Life” system, to which many 100% fair trade firms have recently switched.

We hope these graphics will serve as a tool for consumers, and also contribute to ongoing debates within the fair trade movement regarding the benefits and challenges of corporate participation; how best to manage the relationships between fair trade activists, NGOs, certifiers, corporate licensees, and 100% fair trade firms; and the future direction of fair trade.*

*For more on this topic see:

Jaffee, Daniel and Philip H. Howard. 2010. Corporate Cooptation of Organic and Fair Trade Standards. Agriculture and Human Values, 27(4), 387-399. [PDF]

Howard, Philip H. & Daniel Jaffee. 2013. Tensions Between Firm Size and Sustainability Goals: Fair Trade Coffee in the United States. Sustainability 5(1), 72-89. [PDF]

Jaffee, Daniel and Philip H. Howard. 2016. Who’s the Fairest of Them All? The Fractured Landscape of U.S. Fair Trade Certification. Agriculture and Human Values, 33(4), 813-826.

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