What is Fair Trade Coffee? An Explanation of the Certification Logos

Ever wonder what all the certifications on your favorite bag of coffee mean? In an era of emphasis on sustainable production and curiosity about where our food and beverages come from, it’s more important than ever to not only read but understand what each of those little symbols and certifications mean.

Confused by all the badges, logos, and certifications cluttering the packaging of many of my favorite foods, I decided to start with something simple: My daily cup of coffee. I took some time to dig into just what the claims meant and how I was or wasn’t positively impacting the communities from which my coffee is sourced.

After a bit of research, it was shocking to discover that a single purchase at the grocery or local market could protect rainforest land and species, provide free education for farmers in developing countries, and reduce erosion of valuable topsoil while creating safe habitats for amphibians.

If this sounds a bit outlandish, go grab your favorite bag of coffee, read along, and see what your purchase is doing to positively impact our Earth, its inhabitants, and generations of flora and fauna to come.

Fair Trade Certification

Fair Trade Certified Logo

• Internationally recognized system of standards.

• Guarantees that workers and their families, in 59 developing countries, are protected and can work toward a sustainable future.

• Ensures a fair deal to the workers for the services provided.

• Fair Trade Certification requires adherence to strict social standards including fostering healthy working conditions and prohibiting child labor.

• The environmental standards for Fair Trade certification ensure that natural ecosystems will be protected and that sustainable management practices are implemented in land use.

Organic Certification


• This certification indicates that the producer has been certified as an organic producer by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM).

• Organic Certification includes, but is not limited to, the prohibition of synthetic agrochemicals, nature conservation through the prohibition of clearing primary ecosystems, biodiversity preservation, soil and water conservation, prohibition on the use of genetically modified organisms, diversity in crop production, and maintenance of soil fertility and biological activity.

• In addition to environmental considerations, the IFOAM certification includes a section on social justice for the working personnel.

Rainforest Alliance Certification

Rainforest Alliance Certified Logo

• The Rainforest Alliance Certification is presided over by the Rainforest Alliance and the Sustainable Agriculture Network.

• This certification focuses on the protection and conservation of heavily populated wildlife areas.

• The Rainforest Alliance aims to maintain biodiversity in growing areas while striving for sustainable living conditions for farmers, plantation workers, and the local public.

• This certification provides a guarantee that farmers are treated with respect, paid fair wages, properly equipped, and given access to education and medical care.

SMBC “Bird Friendly”

Bird Friendly Coffee

• This certification is offered by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.

• Bird-friendly coffee is grown in the shade of high tree canopies that serve as ideal habitats for migratory birds, orchids, insects, bats, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and a myriad of species.

• This form of farming protects the coffee plant from rain and sun while helping to maintain the soil quality. It also reduces the need for weeding, aids in pest control, reduces erosion, contributes nutrients to the soil, and prevents metal toxicity.

• Farmers can volunteer for the certification and, if approved, they will receive the certification without any monetary commitment.

UTZ Certified Code of Conduct:

UTZ Certified Logo

• This certification emphasizes responsible production of coffee, tea, and cocoa.

• The certification process encourages practices that are socially and environmentally appropriate, as well as encouraging efficient farm management.

• UTZ Certified provides a web-based “Track and Trace” system that allows consumers to follow the sourcing chain from grower to roaster.

For more information on your coffee and the power of your individual purchase, visit the International Coffee Organization.

Chelsea B. Sanz
Chelsea B. Sanz

Chelsea Sanz has lived in East Tennessee since her family moved here from South Florida just before she started high school. While she initially begrudged her new home state, she eventually realized she had come to not only love it, but to “bleed orange” as University of Tennessee Volunteers fans here like to say. She and her boyfriend Hunter, a trail worker for Great Smoky Mountains National Park, enjoy exploring the nation’s most visited national park and coming up with their own farm-to-table recipes.

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