Coffee Industry Comes Together to Address Pressing Sustainability & Supply Chain Matters

What we learned and shared at the Specialty Coffee Association Expo 2021

I recently returned from the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) Expo 2021 in New Orleans, Louisiana, where I represented Fair Trade USA. We participate in the SCA Expo every year to advance our mission  and support the roasters, retailers, importers and exporters, producers, and other coffee organizations that participate in fair trade to protect the livelihoods of the farmers in their supply chains.  


Why does going to the SCA Expo matter? 

Let’s start with our consumption. Coffee is the most popular beverage in the world, with more than 400 billion cups consumed each year. But this multi-billion-dollar industry doesn’t deliver the fruits of its labor to everyone involved, especially the 25 million people on the front line – the producers. In fact, coffee producers in Latin America today make LESS than their grandparents.   

Fair Trade Certification (TM) helps protect and empower coffee farmers and their families by upholding rigorous standards, guaranteeing a minimum price for coffee even in market fluctuations, and delivering premiums on top of wages for community development projects. In fact, producers have earned more than $200 million through the sale of Fair Trade Certified coffee since our start in 1998. These funds support more sustainable livelihoods and boost production and quality improvements. By following fair trade principles coffee businesses can build stronger, fairer, and more resilient supply chains.  

We believe fair trade can help right the wrongs in coffee supply chains and attend SCA to share this message with decision-makers in the industry while also learning from them. This year’s conference had special meaning as the industry came together to “get back to business” while rethinking how it can move forward in a post-pandemic landscape. Top of mind were:  

  • Supporting farmworkers in their fight against climate change 

  • The importance of digitalization and traceability in supply chains 

  • The migration of coffee farmers and producers and its effects 

  • The ongoing fight to prevent and eradicate child labor 

  • Supporting coffee businesses in New Orleans 

Yolanda Cabrera Quispe, 50, member of Miraflores sector of Selva Andina, a Fair Trade Certified coffee cooperative, picks ripe coffee cherries. “I am happier since joining the cooperative because we are recovering our investment and have a better quality of life. Ever since I began working with coffee and Selva Andina I am able to have some savings," says Yolanda.

What was new at the Expo this year 

In prior years, the Fair Trade USA team organized producer forums on sustainability and hosted meetings between supply chain actors at our booth. This year, I attended with Samantha McEntire, Partnership Development Manager for Packaged Goods, to ensure both our business partners in North America and producer organizations at origin were represented. The 2021 Expo was an excellent platform for us to meet face to face with producers, exporters, importers, and roasters that work with our organization. After two years of virtual meetings, this interaction was valued deeply. We met with Honduran coffee processors and talked about the importance of certifications like ours. We also had the opportunity to meet Luis Miguel Garcia, the general manager of Cooperativa de Caficultores de Anserma, in persona after partnering with him via Zoom all last year.  

Samantha and I both took advantage of the networking opportunities at the SCA Expo to get insights from a wide range of organizations that work within fair trade supply chains. We listened to feedback, answered questions from our stakeholders, and talked about the impact of our coffee program. 

The location of the Expo felt especially relevant this year too. It was a unique opportunity to support and learn from the citizens of New Orleans as they rebuild their city in the wake of Hurricane Ida yet again.

I saw many blue tarps on roofs during my trip, but not many people were blue in spirit. As the coffee industry looks to prepare and ensure its future with more supply chain disruptions surely ahead, it should consider looking to the citizens of New Orleans for a model of resiliency.


What we learned 

At Fair Trade USA, we keep a close watch on the pulse of the coffee industry to inform how we develop and evolve our program to meet worker and business needs. Taking this into account, we attended a variety of sessions to learn about specialty coffee market trends, sustainability, and pressing industry challenges.  

The most interesting session I attended focused on the link between climate change and modern slavery. The lecturers shared how global warming is displacing coffee workers to other regions or countries so they can maintain work. In this unpredictable working climate, human rights violations like child and forced labor and inadequate health care and housing are more common. This shift is something we have been and will continue to consider in how we develop and adapt our program.   

I also attended a talk about farmer-centric coffee trading, where traders and producers shared their views on better ways to source coffee and create impact within farming communities based on farmer feedback. Traceability, more long-term commitments, and equitable prices were a few tangible changes discussed that could improve workers’ livelihoods. 

Fair Trade USA’s participation this year was paramount, as we continue to be the strongest liaison of the fair trade movement in the North American coffee industry.  Next year, our team will return to the SCA Expo with our traditional booth and forum. We hope you’ll join us in co-creating sustainable coffee supply chains.  


If you would like to learn more about Fair Trade Certified Coffee please read this article.  


To learn more about the value of Fair Trade Certified coffee for business and how to partner with us, please visit this page