Posted by: Ingrid | November 5, 2012

The Fair Trade Dilemna

About two years ago I began to hear and learn more about buying “fair trade” and the issue of modern day slavery.  I heard and read things that horrified me – I had been fairly blissfully ignorant human trafficking in general and I remember feeling helpless as I learned more.  I wanted to buy fair trade, but (as most families are) we were on a budget.  While I don’t buy much chocolate, we are avid coffee drinkers who tend slightly to coffee snobbishness.  In my ideal world I would buy fair trade coffee beans and roast them myself.  In my less ideal world I would buy high end fair trade coffee.  In my real world, we are on a $200 per month grocery budget and I go back and forth between whether our coffee purchases should go under groceries or under the “etc.” column, thereby freeing up more money for groceries.  I feel like, if we did recreational drugs, they would fall under “etc.” and our coffee usage some weeks feels close to that, so sometimes I justify it.

The first thing we did was ween ourselves off the good stuff, diluting the coffee that I got on sale and with coupons with some of the “crap” coffee (anything that comes in greater than 16 ounce increments, generally).  And that has been okay.  Disgusting coffee can be made palatable by adding decent hazelnut coffee to the mix.

Then I got to be a part of a Bzz Campaign for Green Mountain Coffee’s fair trade organic blend.  I got my coffee samples in the mail and enjoyed some amazing (undiluted) coffee.  Drinking those steaming cups of goodness brought up two things: I really like good coffee and I want to buy fair trade.

Am I the only one who runs into problems like this?  I totally get the fact that I am casting a vote by determining where to buy food and coffee and such.  I want to be responsible, but I am not sure how to weigh responsibility with the cost factor.  I mean, we could buy local, organic, and fair trade but I’m not sure that our family of four would actually get to eat for the entire month.  And we would also probably have to cut out coffee, which is definitely a deal breaker for me.  But then I think about how people are living in horrible conditions so that I can have cheap coffee twice a day…  Sometimes I wish I was blissfully ignorant rather than informed just enough to be conflicted.

So far I have not found any elegant solutions.  I check sales.  I clip coupons.  I found a coupon on Recyclebank that I purchased with my points that gives me a percentage off of Green Mountain coffee with free shipping.  I also joined jingit , which may be a possible almost solution.  So far, over three weeks in October, I have made about $35 towards the fair trade coffee fund just by clicking on and watching ads.  Jingit is kind of hit and miss on availability, but $35 is still something!  Green Mountain Coffee is on sale at a local store for $6.50 the next few months.  For fair trade coffee, that’s not bad!  And maybe I can use any extra left over cash for running shoes… ;-P

Am I the only person who is trying to figure this sort of thing out?  Any tips, hints, or brilliant ideas (aside from moving to Columbia and growing my own coffee beans) that you’ve discovered?  I would love to hear!



  1. I have similar moments with the dilemma of what seems right versus what seams reasonable. But I suck at keeping tight tabs on the grocery budget and it makes my Husband pretty frustrated at me (fairly so). I admire you for pushing forward with organic,etc goals while keeping to a budget! It’s NOT easy, at all.

    Here is a thought: you guys won’t be in this position forever in terms of having to choose so carefully between your morals/ethics and what is financially prudent. So cut yourself a break: do what you can, when you can, but don’t be too hard on yourself for still buying regular coffee some/most of the time right now. Then, when the tide turns and you have more flexible income, you can make sure to consciously choose it every time. You are still voting with your dollars, even if you can’t exclusively vote with them.

    As far as tips…check Amazon. Also, I shop at Super Target as I find it’s the cheapest fair trade coffee there. And co-ops, although that can be hit or miss with prices.

  2. Am I wrong in thinking that fair trade doesn’t do much to help people? From aan economic standpoint, if you were poor and looking to earn a living, you wouldn’t start growing coffee unless coffee growers made money. Fair trade artificially inflates the price of coffee making it seem as though you would make money. So you enter into the market which should drive the price of coffee down… but it stays artificially high. Where.does the difference come from? Who pays for the difference between supply and demand? The countries economy? The farmers? Does the higher fair trade price even make it back to the farmer? Also, fair trade does not mean better tasting beans 😦

    Just some thoughts.

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