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Fair Trade and Direct Trade, Which One?

Oct 27, 2020 | Blog, Blog Home, Fair Trade Organic

As we all know, when you buy just about any product now the label is filled with promises. How it was grown or processed, where it came from, how it got here, what it has in it…

When it comes to coffee, many people look at all these images and wonder, “What do these mean?”

Well, in this blog we are going to break down the mystery between two frequently used terms related to those images: Fair Trade and Direct Trade.

Let’s begin by defining the two terms.

Fair Trade is a set of standards regulated by third party non-profit organizations. The goal of these standards is to improve the lives of farmers and their communities while producing a high quality product. Because Fair Trade does require a certification to be earned by the farms, certified brands will have a logo on the packaging to help consumers differentiate them.

Direct Trade is a set of standards regulated by individual companies. The goal of these standards is to improve quality of coffee. Since higher quality coffee can demand a high price, the hope is that the extra profits will go back to the farmer’s in the form of increased wages and community improvements. Because there is no legal or formal Direct Trade certification, these products do not have a logo to differentiate them at this time.

And just in case those definitions seem a bit dry, give this video a glance. PBS hosts an entire web series from The Lexicon of Sustainability called Know Your Food. This series helps define the terms people need to understand if they are going to truly live a more sustainable life. Armed with this knowledge, people can make more informed decisions about the food they chose to eat.

So, what is the difference?

First, we need to be clear that one approach is not better than the other. Both programs have strategies in place to create evolving solutions.

And secondly, it all really comes down to what they value. While many of their values; quality, farmer and community empowerment, and environmental sustainability, overlap.  Fair Trade farmers are not compensated for great coffee and there are fewer farmers that benefit from Direct Trade.

Now what should you take away from this brief rundown? Education is key! Educate yourself about the program the logo belongs to and about the brand you are buying. The more we learn the better our choices will become. And we can be more confident that our money is going to people who genuinely value the building of strong communities and true sustainability.


fair trade       fair trade and direct trade