While the Harvard and Yale types continue to pay homage to a Free Trade doctrine that siphons jobs from America's borders and allows corporations to shop the world for peasant labor rates, Christians have taken matters into their own hands and are importing "Fair Trade Coffee" that promises growers a living wage for their product. Some are predicting entire Fair Trade stores if the government continues its destructive policies.
Coffee prices have dropped sharply in recent years, thanks mainly to growers in Vietnam and Brazil who tend to overproduce low-quality beans and then mask their bitterness using high-tech methods. In 1999, the price paid to growers for a pound of coffee was $1.40. It plummeted to 42 cents per pound in 2001 and is currently hovering at about 50 cents per pound. The cost of production, however, is 80 to 90 cents per pound. It doesn't take a math whiz to figure out that the family farm cannot continue to sustain itself under such financial pressure.
Waiting for governments to do something has resulted in nothing but misery, so in 1999 TransFair USA the only independent, third-party certification authority for Fair Trade products in America began certifying Fair Trade coffee. Since then, over 23 million pounds of coffee has been certified, resulting in an additional $18 million paid to coffee farmers. 
The certification process is simplicity personified. Organizations importing Fair Trade coffee must agree to pay growers $1.26 a pound for conventionally grown coffee and $1.41 a pound for organic beans. TransFair then visits growers to confirm that they are indeed receiving this price from the importers. The result is a minimal increase in the price of the end product while providing growers with a living wage. Everybody wins.
In the United States an organization by the name of Global Exchange imports Fair Trade coffee and makes it available to interested parties. Lately, those interested parties have tended to be Christian organizations, and so far, Global Exchange has signed wholesale marketing agreements with the Lutheran Church, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Catholic Church, the Church of the Brethren and the Mennonites. Separate order forms are available for each organization. 
Individuals wishing to buy smaller retail quantities can do so from The Fair Trade Coffee Company, but the markup will be 90% to 100% as opposed to the 40% to 50% charged by most churches. 
Interestingly enough, the independent Fair Trade movement is not limited to coffee. TransFair has also introduced Fair Trade tea and cocoa to the U.S. market. In Europe, TransFair certifies Fair Trade tea, chocolate, bananas, sugar, honey and orange juice. The movement is just starting to grow legs, and a niche market awaits the distributor who can successfully put together an entire Fair Trade store to rival Kroger.
This has not escaped the notice of politicians or those in the coffee business. Proctor and Gamble recently agreed to market a Fair Trade coffee under the Millstone brand name, but you only get this one choice, which is jasmine-flavored. 
Personally, I prefer a cinnamon or hazelnut flavor or none at all but jasmine? Oh, well.
In the last (108th
) session of Congress, Representative Pete Stark (D-CA) and seventeen co-sponsors introduced H. RES. 349 which, if passed, would have expressed the sense of Congress that:
- the legislative and executive branches of the Federal government have a responsibility to set a high standard of ethics with regard to their economic activities, and should therefore ensure that the goods and services they purchase and use are produced in the fairest manner possible;
- Fair Trade Certified coffee should be made available at all events and food service locations in the legislative and executive branches of the Federal government, including through indirect purchases by food service providers; and
- information should be made available to the public and to State and local governments about the importance of Fair Trade Certified coffee
The resolution was referred to the House Committee on Government Reform, which referred it to the House Subcommittee on Civil Service and Agency Organization, where it died.
An even more laudable resolution (H.R. 3564) was introduced by Congressman Ted Strickland (D-OH) which, if passed, would have withheld all funds from the World Trade Organization (WTO) unless or until the president certifies to Congress that the WTO will not impose sanctions against the United States for implementing Fair Trade laws or for respecting those few which are already on the books. This resolution was not co-sponsored by anyone and it died in the House Ways and Means Committee, but my hat is off to Congressman Strickland for doing the right thing.
Considering the inability of our government to do anything positive with respect to Fair Trade, the trend toward independent Fair Trade initiatives is indeed encouraging and should be encouraged, but a caveat must be supplied with this encouragement. Whereas independent Fair Trade initiatives in America can and do have a major beneficial impact on those who import to the U.S., they do nothing to help those Americans and those American businesses displaced by Third World peasant labor rates. Since it is not likely that Mexico or France or even England will do the same for us, the solution to the American Fair Trade problem remains a wage-leveling tariff which must be imposed by Congress, if Congress can ever find the time and the will to act on behalf of the citizens it claims to serve.