For the Congressional Record
Friday, July 25, 2003

Statement of Representative Pete Stark
Introduction of a House Resolution Urging the Government to Purchase Fair Trade Certified Coffee

Mr. Speaker,

I rise today with a group of my colleagues to introduce the Fair Trade Coffee Resolution. This resolution calls on the Legislative Branch and the Executive Agencies of the Federal Government to make fair trade coffee available at their events and food service venues. It also directs the Congress to provide information to the public about Fair Trade coffee. Last year, the House of Representatives passed H.Res 604, recommending that the Congress adopt a global strategy for resolving the coffee crisis. Since then we have not taken any legislative steps to do what we recommended. This small piece of legislation requires very little on our part and yet would promote efforts to give a decent standard of living to small coffee farmers around the world.

The current coffee crisis has driven coffee prices down to a hundred year low. On top of that, small farmers are at the mercy of ruthless middlemen and are not even receiving the fair market price. These middlemen take advantage of small farmers who have no other way to sell their coffee. Millions of small farmers are cheated out of their fair share of income as they receive as little as 1% of the final retail price of their coffee. This meager price is nowhere near enough to support their families and their communities. Instead of having enough money to spend on food, education and health care, coffee farmers are being thrust into a cycle of debt and poverty. The situation is so bad that some farmers have turned to producing cocaine and opium to support their families while others have given up in despair and even committed suicide.

As a major purchaser of coffee, the United States has a responsibility to ensure that small coffee farmers are being adequately compensated for their work. And here in Congress we should do our part to ensure that we pay a fair price for the coffee that is purchased for our own use. If companies like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts can successfully offer fair trade coffee in their stores, there is absolutely no reason why the federal government cannot do so as well. While fair trade coffee is already served in some of the House of Representatives cafeterias we need to do more to send a signal to the rest of the country.

The fair trade economic model is a unique way of providing small farmers with a living wage that has been proven to work. Coffee is fair trade certified when: 1) Coffee importers agree to purchase from small farmers included on the international trade register; 2) farmers are guaranteed a minimum “fair trade price” of $1.26 per pound for their coffee; 3) coffee importers provide a certain amount of credit to farmers against future sales to help the farmers stay out of debt to middlemen; 4) importers and roasters agree to develop long term relationships with producer groups that cut out the coffee middlemen. Small farmers are certified to be producing fair trade coffee if they are organized into democratic cooperatives and use environmentally friendly and sustainable growing methods.

The development of these criteria has made the fair trade economic model a viable solution to the coffee crisis. Both major coffee trade associations, the National Coffee Association of U.S.A. and the Specialty Coffee Association of America have recognized this fact. So have numerous universities around our nation. UC Berkeley, Harvard and many others have already enacted policies promoting the sale of fair trade coffee on their campuses. It is time that Congress recognized that fair trade coffee is one step in solving the humanitarian emergency caused by the coffee crisis.

By providing $1.26 per pound for coffee, fair trade certification provides small farmers with enough money to sustain their families and be able to contribute to their communities. Furthermore, by cutting out the middlemen, the price of fair trade coffee for consumers is the same as any other specialty brand of coffee. Besides being comparable in cost to other specialty coffee it is also comparable in taste. Fair trade coffees from all over the world have won awards such as Food & Wine Magazine’s “Best Coffee” award and 1st place in the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Board’s Blind Coffee Tasting for 2002 competition. With comparable cost and taste compared to other coffee, it is hard to justify not purchasing fair trade coffee. Seeing how there is more than 165 million pounds of fair trade coffee being produced and only 35 million pounds being sold, there is plenty of it. All that needs to be done is to create an awareness of the benefits of fair trade coffee among the public and this resolution does exactly that.

This resolution sends an important message to the American public about the willingness of our Federal Government to aid poverty stricken farmers in other countries. We set an example for the rest of the country to follow by recommending that the Legislative Branch and the Executive Agencies make fair trade coffee available for all events and at all our government food service venues. Taking this small step on our part can go a long way toward helping thousands of small coffee farmers around the world. I urge my colleagues to support passage of this resolution.