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Fairtrade and organic: what is the difference?

At DR Wakefield, we source beans boasting a variety of grades and standards in order to be able to sell the right coffee at the right price, depending on roasters' specifications. 

Many will have heard of both Fairtrade and organic produce, but perhaps few will have more than a superficial understanding beyond believing that in investing in these products, they will be doing their bit for the planet or even their own health.

To make matters a little confusing, a good part of Fairtrade coffee beans are likely to have been grown organically, but not all organic beans come with a Fairtrade seal of approval. For this reason, we find that some roasters demanding organic produce often stipulate that they want their beans to have both Fairtrade and/or Organic too – both of which we can provide.

So what does it mean when a coffee comes with the Fairtrade certification, and why might it be worth going organic?


The Fairtrade Foundation and the certification that it represents focus on trading in a certain way whereby both the consumer and producer work in partnership, overseen by standards dictated by the Standards of International Labour Organisation (ILO). The standards aim to address and eliminate the power imbalance that tends to favour wealthier consumers, as well as to confront problems faced by commodities affected by market fluctuation or the limitations of conventional trade.

Fairtrade importers are obliged to pay a minimum of the current market price or above, to the farming cooperatives directly.

An extensive chain in the trading process and market forces/speculation can leave those at the origin, at the source of the product, getting a fairly rough and inequitable deal – to the sheer number of go-betweens. Fairtrade gives the farmers, the producers and those who put in all the hard work a fairer deal, so they can improve their lives and feel confident about their future prospects. 

From the consumer's perspective, buying Fairtrade is one way to help address the issue of inequality within trading spheres and poverty in developing countries as it gives them access to the market and guarantees a fair price.


Organic, on the other hand, is a standard which concerns how the actual product is grown – for example, looking more at favourable biological factors, as opposed to the commercial trade process itself. 

The very notion of organic farming, of course, reaps further benefits. For example, by not using harmful pesticides and fertilisers which are disallowed under organic standards, these substances are not put into the soils and land where the plant is being grown – not only improving the produce, but nurturing the natural environment and ecosystems of the farms and surrounding areas themselves. This also prevents those handling cherries being affected by such harmful substances.

Furthermore, there must be full traceability to where the produce came from – or where the ingredients originate if the product, unlike coffee beans, is composite.

For coffee, it represents an assurance that the beans have been grown in line with a set of principles. There are several certification bodies in the UK which execute the inspections and paperwork needed to afford certification. DR Wakefield is accredited with the Fairtrade Certification (licence number FLO 1085) and the Soil Association (licence number IP1550), which in fact sets its standards higher than the minimum EU ones in certain areas, such as GM and nature conservation. While these certifications give assurance of guaranteed policies and procedures in a coffee bean's journey from tree to cup, they do not necessarily denote quality and the controlled consistency thereof – for a great tasting coffee, this needs to be considered over and above.