Cup of Justice

By Loren McArthur

This article is from the May/June 1998 issue of Dollars & Sense: The Magazine of Economic Justice available at

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issue 217 cover

This article is from the May/June 1998 issue of Dollars & Sense magazine.

To most people, a cup of coffee is just a cup of coffee. But the people at Equal Exchange of Canton, Mass., would like coffee drinkers to recognize that their choice of brands can mean the difference between supporting coffee producers paid a fair price for their labor, and lining the pockets of large corporations that subject Third World laborers to intolerable working conditions.

Equal Exchange is one of a growing number of organizations dedicated to promoting "Fair Trade," the global exchange of goods based on principles of economic and social justice. Equal Exchange guarantees its producers—cooperatives in the Third World—a fair price, regardless of market fluctuations, and offers advance credit so that coffee growers avoid going into debt. Erbin Crowell of Equal Exchange told us the alternative to purchasing "fair trade" coffee is to buy from "a large, faceless multinational corporation, where the consumer has no idea who grew the coffee, how they were treated, or what control, if any, they have over their lives."

Only .001% of global trade is "fairly traded." Europe provides fair trade's largest market, where fairly traded bananas, cocoa, coffee, honey, sugar and tea line supermarket shelves. The major European label—Transfair International—is now active in Canada, and an initiative is under way to establish Transfair U.S.A.

One of the keys to promoting fair trade is raising consumer awareness. The Fair Trade Federation (FTF) in the United States serves as a network linking retailers, wholesalers, producers, and other organizations committed to fair trade. But it also offers a free "Consumer's Guide to Fairly Traded Goods" with a list of retail outlets where consumers can buy fairly traded products, and an information card that shoppers can give storeowners so they can order FTF's "Retailer's Guide to Fair Trade." Fair Trade Federation (1-800-688-5186); Equal Exchange, 617-830-0303.

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