Why are you personally invested in this cause?
I have seen the conditions. In Kenya, where I am from, I knew a kid who was kidnapped from my school. His parents couldn't find him and looked for him for a month. Finally, they found him, and he was working as a laborer in a big coffee company.
How do you know if a coffee is actually fair trade?
If you go to Starbucks and ask for Fair Trade coffee, they will say that they do pay their farmers, and all their coffee is Fair Trade. But there is a certification where you can be sure that the farmers really were paid a fair price. So, the distinction comes with the Fair Trade label.
FLO is the agency that visits the farms and deems whether they meet Fair Trade criteria. What makes this agency credible?
FLO makes sure that no child labor cartels were used and then it reports to Transfer USA. This is the agency that puts the fair trade label on coffee.
So, the only way you can really make sure something is Fair Trade is to go down to the farms and check it yourself?
Unfortunately, there is only one way for the time being. I would rather we go with that way than just to drink coffee that is not assured Fair Trade. That is why other countries have started doing their own Fair Trade certifications.
Coffee is like drugs; there is so much money to be made. How do you know there isn't any corruption, even in Fair Trade?
All coffee is supposed to be fairly traded, but it is not, and you have to trust the certification. The Fair Trade initiative is one that comes from the consumers. It is a consumer movement, and it is the consciousness that is trusted. FLO was started by consumers. The consumers are the ones who are concerned about the source of the coffee.
On your Web site, it says that Fair Trade coffee is also shade-free and bird-friendly coffee. It sounds nice, but how does this play into the certification?
A company that is not certified, in many cases, asks the farmers to harvest their coffee when it is not ready, so the farmers do not use their traditional methods of farming, and that affects the environment. Besides just paying farmers (a fair price), Fair Trade certifies that proper methods were used and that fertilizers that harm microorganisms were not used. It holds farmers responsible, too. Everyone is held responsible.
What is the argument against Fair Trade?
Most unfairly traded products are coffee. There are many middle-man companies in between--companies that go to coffee farmers and pay them whatever they want and then sell the coffee to importers. When you certify Fair Trade coffee, you eliminate them. They will obviously be against you. But essentially, most companies understand that Fair Trade does ensure that farmers are treated well and that the conditions under which coffee was produced do not violate human rights. The hope is that everything should be fairly traded, and there should be standards in which products are produced.