Coffee lovers favour fair trade

May 15, 2003, vol. 27, no. 2
By Marianne Meadahl

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Vancouver's ethically conscious java lovers may be ready for a change in their coffee cups.

Two-thirds of coffee drinkers recently surveyed on the streets of downtown Vancouver about fair trade coffee say they would buy the product if it was more readily available in the city.

Results of the survey, carried out in December by SFU political science professor Anil Hira (above) and graduate student Jared Ferrie, suggest that Canadian consumers are looking for more ethical choices when it comes to their buying habits.

“They also point to an enormous potential for the growth of fair trade coffee in the Vancouver market,” says Hira.

The survey was undertaken to gauge interest and awareness of issues surrounding fair trade coffee. Fair trade indicates the product is certified as being produced in safe conditions and that the raw materials producer receives a fair wage.

“These results are supported by similar studies in the U.S. and Europe that show there is a large market for fairly traded coffee,” says Hira. “They suggest that Vancouver coffee retailers are not responding fast enough to consumer preferences.”

Hira says fair trade coffee is the same price as comparable coffee but notes that it competes in the high quality segment of the market. “The main reluctance of businesses to adopt fair trade is trepidation about the actual customer demand and unwillingness to change business supply lines,” he adds.

Coffee is the world's second most traded commodity after oil and has high profit margins that often range from 17-25 per cent, notes Hira.

Fair trade advocates suggest that changing consumer habits could change the structure of global trade in such commodities as coffee. They say fair trade stabilizes incomes for farmers by creating an alternative market. Most critics of fair trade say it does not go far enough in creating alternative trading systems or is not sufficiently attractive to mainstream consumers.

The survey found Vancouver coffee drinkers are well informed about issues surrounding fair trade coffee. Seventy per cent were aware of fair trade and nearly 80 per cent wanted to see greater availability, while 66 per cent say they would purchase fair trade coffee if available.

Hira says that plummeting prices on the New York and London commodity markets have affected the stability of the coffee market. “Coffee farmers and plantation workers throughout the world have experienced unemployment and famine over the past three years,” he says. “Fair trade advocates say this is proof that the system needs to be restructured.”

The survey results are being released in conjunction with Transfair's second annual coffee week, on May 11-17. Transfair is an international organization which provides certification of fair trade products. For more information check the website of the Vancouver fair trade coffee network at fairtrade.

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