A Guide to Ethical, Sustainable, and Fair Trade Coffee Brands

A Guide to Organic and Fairtrade Coffee: Coffee, one of the morning’s cosiest aromas, is a staple without which many of us would surely perish, or, at the very least, be rendered somewhat less productive. It isn’t without it’s ethical quandaries, however. There’s the vast quantities of packaging waste, which on a good day adds to the growing landfill problem, and there’s the fact that baristas in many countries earn less than a living wage.

Yet these two fair trade coffee facts are just the first two drips of a long, cold brew of concerns: Coffee farmers, regardless of the quality of their product, are frequently underpaid; workers on coffee plantations often toil under conditions legitimately described as slavery; and the environmental cost of intensively farming a single botanical species has caused widespread devastation to tropical ecosystems around the world.

Surely, there must be a way to rescue the humble coffee bean from this moral dilemma. This guide will explore ethically sourced coffee, fair trade coffee beans, sustainable coffee practices, and many other issues that are involved.

This article contains affiliate links. See our full disclosure here.

By Ana Yong

An Introduction to Fair Trade Coffee

As coffee is consumed at the rate of 2.25 billion cups per day worldwide, there is no wonder that, apart from being one of the oldest traded commodities, it is also currently the second most traded in the entire world.

Because of its popularity as the morning go-to beverage, whether by plunger, pour over, or espresso machine, coffee has become a top money-maker for those involved in the industry. But this has resulted in more than a few inequalities; for example, coffee farmers have not historically been fairly compensated, even those who supplying for brands that well known are highly regarded.

And the problems only worsen from there.

Our List of Fair Trade, Ethical, and Sustainable Coffee Brands

Now that we know what types of certifications to look out for in the coffee industry, here are some ethical coffee brands that are aiming to be icons of sustainability and workers’ rights.

Hugo Coffee Roasters

Hugo coffee roasters

Hugo Coffee Roasters was founded by Claudia McMullin in 2015 and the name was inspired by McMullin’s own rescue dog, Hugo. Since she had been rescuing dogs in her 20s, it was only natural to align her coffee business with animal rescue organizations.

Social Responsibility and Environmentalism

Hugo’s sustainable coffee beans are purchased from organic farms which are also fair trade certified. This means that the farmers, workers, producers and suppliers are paid a decent, living income and where health care and scholastic benefits are also offered to employees.

In addition, Hugo donates 10% of its quarterly profits to numerous animal rescues. To date, Hugo has donated $30,700.

1. Paws for Life

Paws for Life believes that all animals should be given a forever-home and is working against Euthanasia. Since 2012, it has saved 10,958 lives through 378 Community & Adoption Events. Their goal is to achieve a no-kill target by 2025.

Hugo also sponsors ‘An Adoptable Moment’ on KPCW radio where a cute cat or dog is featured every week in the hopes that it will be adopted. This has proven to be successful as these animals are usually adopted days after being highlighted on the radio show.

2. Best Friends Animal Society

Best Friends Animal Society’s mission is to end all animal homelessness and to stop the killing of animals who are not adopted by a certain time in animal shelters. These shelters have managed to save 63,374 cats and dogs in 2019 which would otherwise have been put to sleep.

3. Nuzzles & Co

Nuzzles & Co’s aim is to safeguard the lives of animals by providing a safe haven where they can learn positive behaviors and be adopted. Public education on the compassionate treatment of animals is also provided.

Volcanica Coffee

manual coffee grinder

Volcanica Coffee, founded in 2004 by the Contreras family, is a speciality coffee roaster dedicated to sustainably sourced, single-origin coffee.

Single-origin, for those who are curious, is an unregulated term meaning that the beans of any given roast (a “single-origin” roast) were grown in either the same farm, ranch, geographic area, or country. This differentiates it from “blends”, which combine beans in multiple locations. Single-origin coffee is often preferred by specialty coffee purveyors for many reasons: It is often better quality, it allows for a greater appreciation of flavor, it shows a greater appreciation to the grower, and it offers more transparency in the supply chain.

What is Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee?

jamaica blue mountain cooffee

This is a certification symbol that is recognized worldwide which is only approved by the Coffee Industry Board of Jamaica (CIB). In order to be approved, such coffee must come from the accepted agricultural region in the Blue Mountains in Jamaica, where its cultivation is supervised and recorded by CIB.

Volcanica’s Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee is grown at 7,402 feet where the soil is very fertile and together with cloudy and chilly weather conditions, a unique coffee taste is created. To order, click here.

Charity: Water

The practice of brewing coffee is also closely related to having access to clean drinking water. And this is why Volcanica Coffee is committed to supplying this valuable resource to needy communities around the world by donating 1% of their sales to Charity: Water.

Charity: Water provides access to safe drinking water to more than 7 million people worldwide through projects involving the building of wells and other water-collection devices, as well as water-filtration mechanisms to collect clean water from the environment.

Since its inception in 2006, Charity: Water has sponsored 64,081 projects and helped 12,635,591 individuals in 29 countries.

Charity: Water makes contact with local enterprises that supply robust water and hygiene services, and sponsors their most flourishing projects. The selected partners will then implement projects according to the following steps:

i) Selecting a location

Suitable water collection venues are considered based on the geographical factors of the area, the possibility of creating robust relationships with local communities, the threat of overlap with the efforts of other groups, and the accessibility of replacement parts and repair amenities. In addition, a society’s readiness to take part in the project is vital as robust projects can only be sustained when the majority of people are in support of them.

ii) Using the appropriate technology

The geographical features of a location play an important part in the selection of the type of expertise to be used for the project. Furthermore, additional machinery parts must also be available locally in case of emergencies.

iii) Computing project expenditures

Besides fixtures and fittings, expenditure takes into consideration the wages of technical staff like engineers and workers, communal consolidation and education processes.

iv) Launching best practices

Charity: Water collaborates with industry professionals to set out guidelines so that projects are managed according to best practices.

v) Adhering to set schedule

Based on experience, it takes about 21 months to lay the foundations before starting any project. Activities like moving construction materials to areas which are difficult to access, placing much needed piping to transport water, building goodwill with the local communities and setting up a watch dog committee to oversee the project have to be taken into consideration when planning the timeline.

vi) Co-operating with local municipals

Working with the local councils to improve buy-in and ownership of water projects will ensure that the locals uphold and preserve the running of these developments for a long time.

vii) Safeguarding the effectiveness of the projects

In order to ensure that the water supply is maintained after installation has ended, a project plan is closely followed. Events like creating stable water committees, affiliating with the local constituents, and providing training are all parts of a detailed water project plan.

viii) Checking and appraising

Charity: Water’s Program Teams observe and record the effectiveness of all projects during and after implementation. In addition, independent auditors are brought in to evaluate these projects.

ix) Documenting

All projects are identified and recorded using Google Maps. Details like the project location, types of ventures and the number of people who benefit from these endeavours are available to Charity: Water supporters.

La Colombe Coffee Roasters

coffee being stirred

La Colombe Coffee Roasters was founded by Todd Carmichael and J.P. Iberti who prioritize the sale of Certified Organic Coffee. According to EthicalCoffee.net, coffee cultivators cannot use artificial ingredients like insecticides, herbicides and fertilizers. If a brand or type of coffee is certified organic, no less than 95% of the beans must have been cultivated under organic requirements. As a legal condition, synthetics must not be used on the plot of land designated to grow the ‘organic’ coffee for three years prior to the harvest to be certified organic. Based on the existing rate of purchase, La Colombe would be buying about 150,000 pounds of certified organic coffee for the year 2020.

La Colombe’s roasted coffee boxes are 100% recyclable and use plant-based ink and their coffee bags are the most sustainable in the industry. Their aim is to achieve 98% biodegradable packaging for their coffee products by the year 2024.

Direct Trade is practised when roasters purchase coffee directly from producers and La Colombe is an early pioneer of this practice. Direct Trade also improves the standard of living for the coffee farmers by allowing them to earn a fair price for their coffee beans since the ‘middleman’ suppliers are removed from the trade cycle. It also builds respectful business relationships which allow the roasters to be more involved in how the beans are grown. One advantage is that the quality of the beans can be enhanced by introducing better cultivation techniques.

La Colombe also helps communities by buying coffee beans from the most deprived territories. Their investment in the Kayaza Natural Workshop Roast raised over $10,000 to help farmers in Burundi, a country in East-Central Africa, in the areas of livestock, solar panels and healthcare. In addition, paying higher than fair trade price is what differentiates La Colombe from many coffee brands so that coffee farmers can continue to produce coffee beans of extraordinary quality.

coffee packets

‘No Kid Hungry’ Project

apple core, no kid hungry

This is dedicated to stopping childhood hunger in the United States of America by supporting programs like Breakfast After The Bell, Afterschool Meals, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) which work to create accessibility to food for children. La Colombe will donate $2 for every box of coffee sold to ‘No Kid Hungry’. Through strategic partnerships, ‘No Kid Hungry’ is able to provide up to 10 meals for every $1 spent.

Driftaway Coffee

people tasting fair trade coffee
Suyog Mody (center), co-founder of Driftaway, tasting with his roasters.

Anu Menon & Suyog Mody studied engineering at Georgia Tech. After graduating, they started work at a digital marketing agency. It was 2012, and they began to wonder if this was something that they wanted to do for the rest of their lives. Their journey began, in search of that special something. Before long, Driftaway Coffee was born.

Anu and Suyog then moved to Brooklyn, for the former’s sabbatical. At the same time, they started looking for coffee beans that had been roasted between two to three weeks ago. This is, of course, coffee’s ideal age since roasting. And both of them have been avid coffee drinkers even from high school. But this simple requirement was hard to find. It was then that they decided to start a freshly roasted coffee subscription company.

As the process of creating is at the heart of Driftaway Coffee, the co-founders managed every operational process including designing the packaging, being involved in the roasting activity and also coming up with a business brand name for the coffee subscription company.

fair trade coffee packets

The design philosophy of the packaging was simple: have a basic well-designed package that could be printed at home. After looking through the internet for inspiration, Anu came up with the idea of vintage baggage-tag-inspired coffee labels as a way to celebrate the coffee journey. Coffee has to travel thousands of miles before reaching the consumer.

From November 2019, Driftaway Coffee’s packaging became 100% compostable (except poly-mailers for 1 lb and 2 lb packages which can be recycled), form-fitting and waste-free. The food-safe coffee pouches are 100% biodegradable (unlike other brands which are 40%-60% compostable) and shut out moisture, UV rays and oxygen so that the coffee remains fresh. In addition, they have a degassing valve to release unwanted CO2 produced after the beans have been roasted.

The coffee label, including the adhesive used, is also 100% biodegradable and is the only certified brand in the United States from Pure Labels. Although the ink is not biodegradable, it is non-malignant to the composting process.

Coffee label features
Driftaway Coffee – Features of the coffee label
fair trade coffee label

About Pure Labels

Pure Labels’ packaging is:

  • printed with vegetable ink,
  • produced with wind energy,
  • designed in a way so that shipping them will leave a low carbon footprint, and
  • re-usable when the packaging materials are in good order.
pure labels

Blue Bottle Coffee

Blue Bottle Coffee Cafe Japan

Here is an interesting tale of this brand came about its name:

During the late 1600s, the Turkish army conquered most of Eastern and Central Europe and reached Vienna in 1683. Requiring help urgently, the Viennese despatch Franz George Kolshitsky (who spoke both Turkish and Arabic) to sneak across Turkish lines to pass a message to the Polish army. After many challenges, Kolshitsky returned with the good news that the Poles were coming to Vienna’s rescue. After the Turks were driven from Vienna, the Viennese found peculiar bags of beans which they assumed to be camel food. However, Kolshitsky recognized the beans to be coffee beans and purchased them using money that was given to him by the Mayor of Vienna. He then opened Central Europe’s first coffee house, The Blue Bottle.

Now, in August 2002, a disenchanted musician who played the clarinet chose to spend $20,000 to convert his pastime of roasting coffee into a commercial enterprise. In honour of Kolshitsky’s accomplishments, he named his business Blue Bottle Coffee and started off the commercial venture from an espresso cart. Sixteen years later, Blue Bottle Coffee is available at forty locations in the United States and Japan.

Blue Bottle Coffee Cafe Japan

How is Blue Bottle Coffee Sustainable?

In California, the coffee grounds are given to Frog Hollow Farm as compost for agriculture, while the coffee beans are grown by Good Land Organics, which does not use pesticides or herbicides.

Good Land Organics, founded in 1992 by Jay Ruskey, grows exotic fruits and coffee beans and is located in Santa Barbara, California. The farm is a front runner in the cultivation of unique and tropical fruits, and is a trailblazer in establishing California as a coffee producing state. It makes use of crop multiplicity to fully utilize the yield of the land, and is certified organic by CCOF.

CCOF is a non-profit organization that views organic crop growing as the ‘norm’. It promotes organic cultivation through certification processes as well as educating farmers, producers and suppliers.

Each business certified by CCOF contributes 2% of their certification fees back to the CCOF Foundation. The money is used to offer monetary aid to needy farmers, provide grants to teachers and students learning about the organic methodology, create scholastic programs and disseminate information on organic cultivation to consumers.

Copper Cow Coffee

whole foods market and fair trade coffee

Copper Cow Coffee was founded by Vietnamese-American Debbie Wei Mullin. After studying sustainability in college, she was driven to combine her loves of environmental protection, supply-chain responsibility, her Vietnamese culinary heritage, and, of course, coffee.

Beans are sourced from the Vietnamese highlands, and farmers are paid twice the market rate to help ensure a good livelihood. The farms are also organic certified, meaning they do not use harmful synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. What Copper Cow does differently, however, is in how they serve their product. Single serves are portioned into easy-to-use packets, providing an alternative to instant for the discerning coffee-lover.

Their products are also soy free, peanut free, and GMO free. Their dairy creamers use locally sourced Californian milk, and they have a coconut-based dairy-free creamer option.

sustainable coffee farms in Dalat, Vietnam
“A peak at our sustainable coffee farms in Dalat, Vietnam” Source: Copper Cow Coffee
glass mug with coffee packet
The coffee filter and grounds are also compostable and the external foil of each packet is recyclable.

Work From Home (WFH) Care Packages

Perhaps one of the most unique items on sale from Copper Cow Coffee is their WFH Care Packages which come in two sizes: One Week Care Package (5 coffees and 5 creamers) and Two Weeks Care Package (10 coffees and 10 creamers). I am sure this will be a hit with employers who wish to show their appreciation to employees working from home.

Equator Coffees

equator fair trade coffee bags, and croissant

Equator Coffees’ Chain of Well-Being states that every phase in the supply chain should be “equitable, sustainable and beneficial.”

Case in point, they have a coffee product called the World Bicycle Relief Blend which provides bicycles to needy communities where reliable transport is a benefit to all. Another example is the Honduras San Vicente Anibal Pineda, through which Equator Coffees obtains coffees from farmers who practise sustainability and conscientious cultivation. Their Sumatra Queen Ketiara Fair Trade Organic is a type of coffee provided by a co-operative that invests in its members and also ensures a fair price is paid to the farmers.

By constantly improving the roasting process and investing in energy efficient Loring Smart Roasters, Equator Coffees has also been able to reduce carbon emissions by 80% for each batch of coffee roasted.

Involvement in the Sumatran Tiger Trust

Sumatran Tiger Trust coffee bean bags

The Sumatran Tiger is listed as “Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species due to poaching, habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict.” The Kerinci Seblat National Park and the Ulu Masen and Leuser ecologies of Aceh in Sumatra are international priority zones for tiger preservation.

The Equator Blend of coffees contributes to the Sumatran Tiger Trust which is used to protect habitats for the Sumatran Tiger by paying one year’s salary for two trained rangers (including uniform and gear).

Equator Coffees is also a Certified B Corporation and practises openness and culpability throughout the supply chain and unrestricted communication with workers and the public.

Spirit Animal Coffee

Spirit Animal organic and fair trade coffee from Honduras, hessian

Spirit Animal Coffee was founded by Paul Gromek, who, after a few years travelling through Latin America, decided to venture into a business that provided speciality coffee. He roped his good friend Kathya Irias into the business, and Spirit Animal was born. All coffee is grown in Honduras on organic farms without using pesticides.

Why is Spirit Animal Coffee extraordinary?

1. Speciality Coffee

The grading system for speciality coffee was developed by the Speciality Coffee Association (SCA), which is a non-profit. Its worldwide membership consists of coffee growers, farmers, producers, suppliers, and baristas. All efforts and activities are carried out to render speciality coffee a profitable, justifiable and manageable business for all involved. To be graded as “specialty”, coffee must: be made from Arabica beans, be hand-picked, and score at least 80 points on the cupping scale.

2. Single Origin

This means that Spirit Animal Coffee is sourced from one geographic location, thereby upholding the taste (flavour) of the coffee.

3. Micro Lot

A micro lot consists of coffee beans grown on the same plantation, picked on the same day and processed collectively as one batch.

4. 90+ Points Cup Score

Since Spirit Animal Coffee is scored 90+ on the scoring system, the quality classification is Outstanding.

5. High-Elevation

Coffee beans grown at a high elevation, in this case at 5,000 feet, take a longer time to nurture as there is less oxygen in the air. However, this longer duration allows for more nutrients to nurture in the coffee cherry resulting in a more refined taste.

6. Shade-Grown

Coffee beans grown in the shade are more flavourful and contain more nutrition. Farms with shade-grown coffee plants incorporate more trees and other plants, thereby, reducing soil destruction and deficiency in soil nourishment.

7. Low-Acidity

Spirit Animal Coffee grows their coffee plants at high-altitudes and this diminishes the acidity of the coffee.

8. Hand-washed and Hand-Selected

The coffee cherries are hand-picked without the use of machines so every bag contains fully ripe cherries.

9. Mycotoxin-, Mold-, and Fungicide-free

Ochratoxin which is a type of Mycotoxin (a by-product of mold) has been found to cause cancer, brain damage, and kidney failure. Ochratoxin is removed from the coffee cherries by hand-washing and hand-processing each and every one of the cherries.

Nguyen Coffee Supply

nguyen fair trade coffee on talk show

Nguyen Coffee Supply was founded by Sahra Nguyen (daughter of Vietnamese refugees from the Vietnam War). Apart from this, she is an “award-winning documentary filmmaker behind NBC News’ “Deported,” co-founder of New York Times reviewed restaurant “Lucy’s Vietnamese Kitchen,” co-founder of podcasting agency “Listening Party,” and a 2018 Google Next Gen Tech Policy Leader.

As Vietnam is the second largest coffee producer in the world and the number one supplier of Robusta beans, countless coffee drinkers would already be accustomed to the unique taste. Therefore, it would not be difficult to introduce Vietnamese coffee into the U.S. market. And through an introduction by her aunt to a coffee farmer who owned two farms, a direct-trade and trustworthy business relationship with Nguyen Coffee Supply was formed.

Being the primary and foremost speciality Vietnamese coffee label in the United States, Nguyen Coffee’s Arabica and Peabody Robusta beans are obtained from single-origin sources.

The Original Phin Kit

nguyen fair trade coffee pack

This Kit consists of a bag of coffee and one Phin filter and in my opinion, one of the best products from Nguyen Coffee Supply. As there are no paper filters since the Phin filter is made of stainless steel, it is ecologically friendly to use. Those who cannot miss their daily cuppa can bring this portable filter along when they travel to make their favourite cup of coffee every day.

Tayst Coffee Roaster

tayst coffee cup and pods

Tayst Coffee Roaster, founded by Craig Handleman and Gregory Byrnes, offers single-serve coffee pods. Most people would think that coffee pods are not sustainable, and in the vast majority of cases that is regrettably very true, but Tayst pods are 100% compostable and will biodegrade “back to nutrient rich soil in 41 days in a commercial facility.” The coffee is also Rainforest Alliance certified to safeguard the ecology and provide monetary gains to coffee growers so as to improve their livelihood, health and welfare.

The World’s First 100% Compostable Coffee Pods

Tayst uses the PurPod100 design, which is certified to be 100% compostable and well-matched with Keurig 1.0 and 1.2 brewing systems. The lid is manufactured using biodegradable ingredients and water-based ink while the ring is created from real coffee skins. Bio resins make up the mesh sack used to house the ground coffee. PurPod100 pods discharge nutrients back into the earth as the pod decomposes.

A closer look at Tayst’s PurPod100 pods:

coffee pods

Compare this to traditional coffee pods and you can see the real difference:

coffee pods

Ordering Tayst

Tayst caters to the customers’ needs by allowing them to select how much coffee they want to drink in a month. Their most popular choice provides the customer with 50 cups for $35 per month. It’s simple:

choose the amount of cups you drink, select the brews of your choice, enjoy the convenience of great coffee delivered monthly

Green Company Directory

One of the unique ways that Tayst Coffee Roaster shows its support for green businesses is to have a list of such organizations on their website. There is also a directory of green certifications and coffee certifications as well.

infographic: 100,000,000 plastic cups are in landfill
Source: Tayst Coffee Roaster


fair trade coffee certified b corp
Sustainable coffee brands UK: Cafédirect

Cafédirect is UK’s first B Corporation certified coffee company. To be accredited, Cafédirect was required to pass a rigorous assessment and score over 80 points. They obtained a score of 97. They also invest 50% of their profits directly back into Producers Direct which is a UK charity that works directly with growers around the world. With most of Cafédirect’s producer partners being shareholders of the company, they benefit directly from the company’s success.

Cafédirect is also UK’s first and largest Fairtrade hot drinks brand and have no less than a third of their sales certified as Soil Association Organic.

Cafédirect’s Certifications and Charities

producers direct

Smallholder farmers own and manage Producers Direct which focuses on these small scale producers taking leadership to resolve the challenges and convert their farms into sustainable enterprises.

With 50% of the Board Members being smallholder farmers and producers, they have a vested interest in improving the knowledge, skills and expertise which in turn, will raise the standard of living for everyone involved.

soil association

The Soil Association was formed in 1946. It is a UK charity that focuses on human health, the ecology and animal wellbeing.

The Soil Association Standards define how an organic product must be produced, cultivated or formulated. These are the world’s first organic standards and were crafted in the 1960s.

certified b corporation

Certified B Corporations are not concerned solely with making profit at the expense of others. These sustainable coffee companies deliberate the effects of their choices on the stakeholders of the business, namely, the employees, customers, dealers, the public and the ecosystem.

More than 500 B Corps have pledged to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2030 which is twenty years ahead of the goals set by the Paris Agreement.

What is Fair Trade Coffee?

So how do we know that the coffee we are drinking is sustainable and ethically sourced? While the word “Fairtrade” is used exclusively by one specific organization to refer to a specific certification, the two separate words “fair trade” refer broadly to an area where ethics and economics overlap, a meeting of corporate responsibility, production chain transparency, and common decency towards every person involved in bringing the product to market. Usually, such coffee would have the following types of certifications:

World Fair Trade Organization

blue World Trade Organization logo

The World Fair Trade Organization, or WFTO, practises in 76 countries, where member businesses are certified as social enterprises that observe Fair Trade practices.

A social enterprise is defined as having been created to accomplish a public mission; for example, to improve the educational level of disadvantaged communities. While profit is not the main motivational factor for setting up a social enterprise, it plays a vital role in sustaining the business and also in allowing it to continue to provide social services to the community.

Note: WFTO is Registered in the Dutch Chamber of Commerce under number: 40536675. RSIN: 813934618

How to qualify as a WFTO member

Placing people and the environment first in the business practices and policies of the company is a requirement for any establishment to becoming a WFTO member.

In relation to the ‘people’ factor, WFTO members are required to implement practices that treat the employees (farmers, workers, artisans, etc) fairly and give priority to their welfare instead of focusing solely on profit margin. Circumstances relating to work conditions like the availability of meal breaks, providing a safe and conducive work environment, etc. are important aspects.

As for the ‘environment’, WFTO members must engage in ecologically friendly methods of cultivating the soil so that the land is not stripped of its vital nutrients but is able to replenish itself and be ready for growing the next crop.

What is the WFTO Guarantee System?

Instead of focusing on a particular feature like an ingredient, merchandise or the supply chain, the WFTO Guarantee System evaluates the business in totality, thereby combining Fair Trade and social enterprise authentication into one. Get the WFTO Guarantee System Handbook here.

WFTO’s Ten Principles of Fair Trade

10 colour boxes with information and graphics
Source: WFTO Fair Trade System

Principle One: Creating Opportunities for Economically Disadvantaged Producers

WFTO supports disadvantaged farming communities no matter whether they are small-scale and independent farmers or those belonging to co-operatives as the emphasis is to reduce income inequality and instability.

Principle Two: Transparency and Accountability

All stakeholders, including employees, are made aware of the company’s commercial and business practices as well as decision-making processes. Information is communicated openly to all partners in the supply chain so that the business is accountable to everyone.

Principle Three: Fair Trading Practices

Here, commercial procedures are clearly stated and honoured according to the terms and conditions listed in the contract between suppliers (including farmers) and buyers. Quantities of crops (eg. Coffee beans) are supplied in a timely manner according to agreed quantity and quality.

For food products, the purchasers will make a pre-payment of at least 50% at a reasonable interest, if requested. “Interest rates that the suppliers pay must not be higher than the buyers’ cost of borrowing from third parties. Charging interest is not required.”

When the Fair Trade suppliers receive a pre-payment, they must ensure that the money is passed onto the farmers who grow this product.

Principle Four: Fair Payment

Fair Payment consists of Fair Prices, Fair Wages and Local Living Wages, where fair prices mean a mutually-negotiated and agreed upon price for the product, fair wages whose amounts are equitable and are at the level of a Local Living Wage (compensation paid to a worker for a standard work week which is enough for a decent standard of living for the worker and his/her family).

Principle Five:  Ensuring no Child Labour and Forced Labour

As WFTO follows the ‘United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child’, as well as local employment laws regarding children, any child labour and/or forced labour is not practised or tolerated. Where children are involved in the production of a product (eg. In the learning of a craft), relevant discloses and necessary checks are made accordingly.

Principle Six:  Commitment to Non-Discrimination, Gender Equity and Women’s Economic Empowerment, and Freedom of Association

WFTO has a clearly-defined policy that does not “discriminate in hiring, remuneration, access to training, promotion, termination or retirement based on race, caste, national origin, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, union membership, political affiliation, HIV/AIDS status or age.”

Here, all employees have the right to join a Trade Union of their choice and to participate in collective bargaining.

Principle Seven:  Ensuring Good Working Conditions

Work hours and conditions are regulated so that the health, safety and welfare of the workers are not jeopardized. If required, regular checks can be conducted to ensure that such conditions are not forgotten.

Principle Eight:  Providing Capacity Building

WFTO believes in developing the skills of farmers and producers so that they can produce better crops and in greater quantities. By conducting training courses and workshops, workers and farmers can learn how to utilise the environment in a more sustainable manner. In addition, they also improve their soft skills like management skills and technical skills like increasing their accessibility to markets.

Principle Nine:  Promoting Fair Trade

WFTO members are taught the importance of Fair Trade in relation to how it affects them and the benefits of engaging in Fair Trade to everyone involved.

Principle Ten: Respect for the Environment

Here, WFTO places emphasis on the ecology by maximising the use of limited raw materials which are sustainably sourced. The transfer of developmental techniques in the area of farming is also practised so that the farmers’ impact on the environment is minimised.

Buyers of Fair Trade products are also encouraged to give priority to farmers who practise sustainable agriculture. Businesses use recyclable or biodegradable packaging, where possible, and goods are transported by sea, instead of air-flown, to their respective destinations, wherever possible.

WFTO Labels

World Fair Trade Organization logos

Guaranteed Fair Trade Product Label

  • “Owned by members, can be used on all products,
  • Can include name of the enterprise, and
  • No license-fee for members who have achieved Guaranteed status.”

First-buyer Product Label

  • “For use by non-WFTO members who buy from WFTO members and rebrand the finished products, and
  • There is a 1% license-fee for use (on the commercial transaction).”

Fairtrade International

Fairtrade International

Fairtrade International believes that small-scale farmers and workers as well as those from co-operatives have a strong voice collectively to battle the inequalities of international trade.

Using Fairtrade Standards, small producer organizations and agricultural workers are protected from unstable price fluctuations that affect their livelihoods.

Fairtrade International’s Theory of Change

The Theory of Change illustrates the change that business enterprises want to see in the world that they are operating in as well as the contributions they are willing to make. This theory provides the basis for evaluating and measuring FI’s success in achieving its goals. You can download FI’s ebook on the Theory of Change here.

Fairtrade International is certified by FLOCERT

FLOCERT certifies business enterprises for Fairtrade and sustainability. It has been helping producers, farmers and brands for over a decade and a half.

Flocert Assuring Fairness

Logos used by Fairtrade International

Original Fairtrade Mark

Green Tea Pomegranate - herbata w piramidkach - h&a

This logo symbolises products that have been fairly produced and traded. The life cycles of such products are completely distinguishable from production (farm) to shelf (marketplace). You will find this mark on single-ingredient products like coffee.

Fairtrade Mark with an Arrow

Le label Fairtrade

This Fairtrade Mark with the arrow requires consumers to check the back of the product packaging to find out more about the ingredients used as well as the sourcing methods. As opposed to the logo above, this is used on products with multiple ingredients like chocolate which means that all the ingredients used here must be produced and/or sourced under Fairtrade conditions.

Although the minimum overall Fairtrade content is 20%, many businesses are including Fairtrade ingredients that make up more than 20%. Please check the percentages at the back of the packaging.

USDA Organic

USDA Organic

The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) is the arm of the government that educates the public including farmers, producers and suppliers on government policies pertaining to agriculture, food, nutrition and rural development. It also offers assistance in providing the most suitable and available technology and management services so as to create economic opportunities for everyone involved.

Note: The USDA was formed on 15 May 1862 by President Abraham Lincoln, when he signed legislation to create the United States Department of Agriculture, which has benefited generations of Americans.

Mission Areas

The following are the areas that the USDA is focusing on:

  1. Farm Production and Conservation

This focuses USDA’s efforts in helping farmers, workers and everyone involved in the agricultural sector to alleviate the hazards associated in this industry by offering crop insurance, conservation programs and emergency services for disasters among others.

  1. Food Nutrition and Consumer Services

Here, USDA is committed to employing the country’s huge agricultural richness to stop hunger and enhance the health of Americans. It provides nutrition assistance programs through education and dietary management.

  1. Food Safety

This certifies that the country’s supply of meat, poultry and eggs is secure and forms part of the President’s Council on Food Safety.

  1. Marketing and Regulatory Programs

This enables the marketing (both domestically and international) of the country’s agricultural products and safeguards the fair treatment of animals and care of plants.

  1. Natural Resources and Environment

This department looks into maintaining the health of the land by using sustainable agricultural methods so as to mitigate the effects of climate change.

  1. Research, Education and Economics

This is devoted to the formation of a secure, workable and economically viable U.S. food and fibre system.

  1. Rural Development

The aim is to improve the quality and standard of living for rural communities in the areas of public health, housing, water and sewage, emergency services, electric and telephone facilities.

  1. Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs

Prospects for competing in the global arena are generated for farmers and ranchers by implementing friendly and mutually beneficial trade policies with other countries.

Rainforest Alliance and UTZ

Rainforest Alliance, frog, UTZ
Source: Rainforest Alliance and UTZ

Two of the world’s leading sustainability certification agencies, the Rainforest Alliance and UTZ merged in the second-half of 2017 to produce a single agriculture sustainability yardstick to improve the lives of farmers and forest peoples.

The newly-formed institution is called the Rainforest Alliance, and will fight ecological and societal concerns including deforestation, income inequality, climate change and unmaintainable agricultural systems. It provides a solitary certification yardstick that is recognised globally and will build mutually beneficial partnerships to focus on conservation in crucial areas from India to Ghana.

New Certification Standard

The new standard, called the Rainforest Alliance Standard, “will utilize the respective strengths of the current Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) and UTZ standards while creating a single auditing process for certificate holders.”

The Rainforest Alliance 2020 Certification Program consists of assurance and technology methods that will better serve the two million farmers and producers as well as thousands of business initiatives which are already using the original Rainforest Alliance certification. You may download a copy of the 2020 Certification Program here.

The Assurance System of the 2020 Certification Program is introduced to make sure that auditing procedures are more environment specific, statistically focused and hazard based. You may download a copy of the 2020 Certification and Auditing Rules here. Here is a quick reference to the FAQs.

Bird Friendly (Smithsonian)

Bird Friendly Smithsonian logo

The Bird Friendly® Program protects habitats from the hazards of deforestation. You know that a product is bird friendly when it has the Bird Friendly® seal (left).

Bird Friendly® coffee comes from farms which use a mixture of eco-friendly farming techniques including plant cover, tree elevation and biodiversity to improve and conserve conducive breeding environments for birds and other wildlife. For more answers on this, you can go to the Bird Friendly® FAQs. This seal is the only 100% shade-grown and 100% organic coffee certification with more than 1,150 coffee producers worldwide.

infographic showing different heights of tree canopy and listing number of bird species typically present
Source: About Bird Friendly Coffee

Birds protected by Bird Friendly Certified Coffee Farms

  • Baltimore oriole
  • Blackburnian warbler
  • Black-and-white warbler
  • Black-throated blue warbler
  • Black-throated green warbler
  • Blue-gray gnatcatcher
  • Blue-headed vireo
  • Cape May warbler
  • Chestnut-sided warbler
  • Hammond’s flycatcher
  • Least flycatcher
  • Magnolia warbler
  • Nashville warbler
  • Orange-crowned warbler
  • Swainson’s thrush
  • Tennessee warbler
  • Wilson’s warbler

Achievements of the Bird Friendly® Certification Scheme

Currently, nearly 37,000 acres or 14,932 hectares of land have been certified as bird friendly habitat which is roughly the size of about 27,981 football fields. There are more than 5,100 coffee producers from 11 countries participating in this scheme.

4C Certification


The 4C Certification System stands for the “Common Code for the Coffee Community” and is a sustainability benchmark for the whole coffee industry. It is focused on securing sustainability in supply chains.

The sustainability doctrines and standards are found in the 4C Code of Conduct, which consists of:

  • 12 principles across economic, social and environmental components grounded in beneficial farming and management procedures including worldwide principles and accepted directives.
  • 45 criteria focusing on certain borders to be observed during audit so as to confirm fulfilment of the required criteria.
  • 3 compliance levels permitting efficient access to certification and warranting the constant enhancement of certified coffee producers.

What is 4C Compliant Coffee?

This is coffee which has been manufactured according to the 4C Code of Conduct.

4C code of conduct

Benefits of 4C Certification

For Producers

  1. Farmers / Producers learn to grow coffee in a sustainable manner which is socially acceptable.
  2. Small scale or independent farmers are not excluded from the benefits of 4C Certification.
  3. Volume-generating practices allow improved efficiency and higher earnings for certified coffee.
  4. Greater entry to new and better worldwide coffee markets for small scale farmers.
  5. Enhanced working and living situations.

For Traders, Roasters and Brand Owners

  1. Elevated standing in the coffee community.
  2. Increased business including returning customers who are impressed with the 4C Certification and wish to support the disadvantaged communities of coffee producers.
  3. As the certification process is done independently by a third-party establishment, there is less speculation of the authenticity of the certification.
  4. Businesses are trained to evaluate and manage risks in their supply chains.
  5. Being 4C Certified means that an enterprise’s sources and supply chains are traceable.

Last Word on Organic Fair Trade Coffee

A lot more can still be done to distribute the inequalities in the supply chain for coffee and these eleven coffee brands are paving the way. One of the reasons why they are so successful is that they have the dedication of committed staff who are not afraid to put in the hard work.

As more coffee drinkers become aware of how they can impact the coffee industry by supporting those brands which are organic, ethical and sustainable, coffee farmers will face a better outlook for their future.