How to tell if your coffee is ethically sourced

words Alexa Wang

In recent years, a significant ethical shift has occurred among consumers. Sparked in part by the internet and the increased access it has given us to a wide range of information, we can now no longer ignore the impact our purchases have on the world. 

ethical coffee

One area that this has impacted is farming. With a number of products grown in tropical climates, farmers have historically been exploited, having their produce bought for cripplingly low prices and then sold in western markets at a massive markup. 

Coffee, unfortunately, is one of these products. We spoke to the Peak Coffee team to uncover some ways to tell if your coffee is ethically sourced. 

It’s too cheap

Coffee isn’t cheap to produce. If you’re paying a low price, it’s almost impossible for the farmer who grew the beans to be fairly compensated. On the off chance that they are being paid well, they’ll have been forced into unsustainable growing practices, such as deforestation, to produce coffee in massive quantities. 

To be clear, this doesn’t mean that all expensive coffee is ethically produced, just that it’s pretty much impossible for cheap coffee to be so.

They lack transparency

Any real ethical coffee company should be able to tell you exactly where your coffee came from. This means that you should be able to discover the exact farm that your beans came from – if they can’t tell you, they’re either not diligent in their approach or, more likely, they’re hiding something. 

They should also be able to tell you exactly how much they’re paying the farmer for their work; it’ll all be on the record, and if they don’t want to disclose how much it is, it’s probably because they’re not paying them enough.

Is it Organic or Fair Trade Certified

While these are buzzwords that are thrown around, they actually tell you a significant amount about the company that uses them. For something to be labelled as organic, it will have had to have been verified through quite a complex process. 

Fair Trade holds a similar weight, and means that the farmers are getting $1.40 per pound for non-organic coffee, and $1.70 for organic, with a $0.20 community-development fee on top. With organic products, it’s often the case that only larger companies can afford certification; still, it’s a good way for larger companies to show a level of environmental care. 

ethically sourced coffee

Is the branding all show?

As with greenwashing, a lot of coffee brands like to make false claims about sustainability and ethical practices. 

Luckily, with the internet, you can conduct a search incredibly quickly as to the veracity of their claims. If you go on a brand’s website and they don’t actually give any concrete information, just pretty logos and expensive coffee, it’s likely that they’re just jumping on the ethical production bandwagon to make a quick buck. 

Legitimate ethical brands will be proud of the work they’re doing, they won’t make it hard to find so that you have to go searching for it.


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