How can you be sure that you’re buying a coffee that doesn’t exploit the people who grew it? The good news is that it’s actually easy to support the farmer who has laboured for many hours to grow and process your coffee.
There’s an enormous difference between the coffee industry as a whole and the specialty coffee sector. The coffee industry as a whole is overwhelmingly dominated by large, multinational companies which supply cheap, generic products in supermarkets. Specialty coffee roasters make up an incredibly small percentage of the industry and are intimately involved in the entire coffee cycle — from farming, to processing and roasting.
Most of the ethical problems in today’s coffee industry occur with poor quality Arabica coffee (ie Arabica which is grown at low altitudes, and poorly processed) and most of the world’s Robusta. This low cost coffee predominantly ends up in jars of instant coffee. Many of the large companies that use this coffee don’t purchase based on quality, their most important factor is price — as low as possible. Because the multinational coffee companies are buying in extremely large quantities, it’s easy for them to get what they want. It’s this type of coffee, grown as cheaply as possible, that leads to unethical practices.