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Social media gives today’s consumers tremendous information about their favorite products. And increasingly, buyers want to know that the brands they support are behaving fairly and ethically in the marketplace. Non-essential luxury items, in particular, come under scrutiny. Ethical coffee brands know this and work hard to demonstrate their fair practices.

At Equiano Coffee, we cultivate relationships with coffee growers around the world. We learn their growing methods and visit their farms to understand their operations. It’s an honor to be part of an ethical coffee chain in this way. We invite you to visit the tasting room to learn more or shop online for your favorite beans.

What Is Ethical Coffee?

As is the case with many things in the food and beverage industry, there isn’t a consensus on what makes a coffee brand “ethical.” It is not a legally-designated label, and it doesn’t have a set of consistent standards behind it.

Instead, the idea of ethical coffee is evolving as consumers learn more about the coffee growing and distribution process. But here are three things to consider if you’re looking to purchase from a coffee brand that you feel good supporting.

1. Ethical Treatment of Farmers

Ethical coffee brands treat farmers fairly.

To find an ethical coffee company, you need to examine its relationship with the growers. Historically, luxury items tend to come from underdeveloped nations and go to market in developed countries.

This arrangement inherently creates a massive disparity between those who produce the goods and those who consume them. And typically, a so-called “middle man” reaps the benefit. They can buy coffee for very little money from an impoverished farmer and sell it for an enormous markup, keeping the profit.

Ethical coffee brands work directly with farmers wherever possible. They build relationships with the growers and pay a fair price for their product. These businesses take the time to learn about the growing operation and conditions on the coffee farm.

The industry term for buying from the grower is “direct trade,” and on the surface, it would seem that this label gives consumers valuable information. In reality, direct trade coffee brands have no legal or certified backing for that phrase. Any coffee company can claim to be a direct trade product, whether they support the farmer or not.

The hardworking growers and farmers are producing a highly-prized commodity and deserve to have appropriate compensation. Fortunately, social media helps coffee roasters and distributors to provide transparency in how they work with farmers. This fact helps consumers make more careful buying decisions.

Ethical coffee companies must be transparent.

Of course, it’s unlikely that a coffee roaster can get to know every single farmer they buy from in the industry. Being an ethical brand doesn’t have to demand that level of knowledge. But buyers and roasters should be trying to support fair wages and working conditions in their business dealings.

2. Ethical Treatment of the Land

Modern agricultural practices around the world have come under attack in recent years. Pesticide use, soil depletion, and modified seeds are a few of the significant issues consumers are questioning.

Although environmental labels are plentiful, they may or may not mean anything. For coffee growers, however, there are a few certifications and designations that may carry weight.

  • Rainforest Alliance Certified – Although this designation isn’t as clear or powerful as it could be, it provides some environmental support. The Rainforest Alliance has a certification process for many crops, and coffee is one of them. It does not carry strict requirements for shade trees, for example, but it is a step in the right direction.
  • Bird-Friendly Certified – By growing their coffee plants in the shade of taller trees, growers can use less water and prevent erosion. The “shade-grown” label on coffee does not have a legal meaning, but it may indicate ethical growing practices. A “Bird-Friendly” label from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, however, does carry weight. 
Many ethical coffee brands carry a bird-friendly certification.

It requires that the coffee be organically grown and carries clear guidelines regarding canopy height and percentage of shade cover. Achieving this certification is a pass/fail option. A farm cannot receive the designation without fully meeting every requirement.

3. Ethical Giving 

A final facet of an ethical coffee brand is how it uses its profit. Consumers are increasingly interested in how companies use their money, and establishing a give-back program is valuable. 

Many companies choose to reinvest some of their profits in programs that support farmers and their workers. Or they give back to organizations in their own communities by supporting causes and individuals they care about. 

Some coffee shops use their space to highlight local artists and musicians. Other companies support schools or nonprofits as part of their giving back efforts. Again, social media is a goldmine for consumers who want to know what a business is doing for good in the world, big or small.

It’s an Honor to Bring You Great Coffee 

Equiano Coffee is proud of its role in the Eugene, OR, community. We work hard to find excellent coffee from trusted farmers so that we are part of an ethical coffee supply chain. 

You can order your single varietal beans online, or we’d be thrilled to see you in our tasting room. We will brew you the perfect cup and share the love.