Fair Trade FAQs

General Questions about Fair Trade

Who are LWR’s Fair Trade partners and what do they do?

Our partner for providing a way to put your faith into action through Fair Trade is Equal Exchange, a worker-owned cooperative dedicated to Fair Trade. Equal Exchange was founded over 20 years ago with the intent to build a better food system, one that supports family farms, organic methods, democratically-run cooperatives, and honesty and fairness in the trade of high quality food.

Equal Exchange makes a long-term commitment to the farmer associations they work with. They negotiate fair prices with the farmers based on actual production costs, cost of living, product quality and the quantity. Equal Exchange pays part of the contract up front (providing credit) and pays a social premium. The association agrees to invest this premium in services for their members and communities, such as water systems, roads, education and medical care.

For each pound of coffee, chocolate, tea, cocoa, sugar and snacks purchased through LWR, Equal Exchange donates $.20 to the LWR Small Farmer Fund, which supports LWR’s projects with small-scale coffee farmers.

Return to index

Why does LWR support Fair Trade?

The answer is simple: Fair Trade is in line with Lutheran theology and our values, and it serves our mission of ending poverty, injustice and human suffering.

Fair Trade not only ensures that people get fair prices for their quality products, it also gives them the tools they need to work their way out of poverty:

  • Access to credit, which allows them to build up their businesses
  • Skills training and education
  • Collective power to negotiate better prices and to help members ride out hard times
  • Financial support for community development programs like schools, health clinics and public wells

The Fair Trade system encourages and teaches farmers to diversify and to use environmentally friendly farming practices, which leads to food security, better nutrition and higher soil quality.

Return to index

How can I support Fair Trade?

  1. Buy coffee or chocolate through LWR’s Fair Trade Projects (of course!), and explore other Fair Trade product choices.
  2. Choose Fair Trade products over those that do not meet Fair Trade standards, and encourage others to do so.
  3. Host a Fair Trade Fair or Fair Trade coffee and chocolate tasting at your church, office or club.
  4. Contact the managers of your local grocery store and coffee shop and ask to see Fair Trade products on their shelves or menu.

By increasing awareness of and consumer demand for Fair Trade items, you are helping small-scale farmers around the world.

Return to index

Are Fair Trade products more expensive than similar, conventional products?

Not necessarily. Fair Trade products can cost less, the same, or slightly more than conventionally-traded products of similar quality because—even though the initial price paid to the farmers is higher—Fair Trade cuts out some of the middlemen between producers and consumers. This keeps costs down. However, because most Fair Trade items are produced in small batches, the price per item can be higher. When Fair Trade products do cost more, keep in mind that the extra money you are spending is going to small scale farmers and toward the betterment of their communities. For many, the additional cost is minimal in light of this extra benefit.

Return to index

What is the difference between Fair Trade and free trade?

The theory of free trade contends that if everyone has equal access to markets and all barriers to trade are removed (tariffs, taxes, etc.), everyone in the world will eventually benefit from paying lower prices for what they need. The point of free trade is to buy and distribute goods as cheaply as possible, and benefit is measured only in terms of money. In this model, large corporations from industrialized countries tend to win and small-scale producers tend to lose.

Fair Trade recognizes that true free trade does not exist in this world because producers do not all have equal access to markets. Small scale farmers in poor, rural regions of the world simply do not have access to the information, capital and organization that would give them a chance at competing against large, powerful corporations. Fair Trade aims to level the playing field by helping these small producers form associations so they can compete in the world market.

Fair Trade places value on people’s well-being and measures benefits not only in terms of money but also in human and moral terms such as:

  • Sustainability (making sure trade arrangements help everyone survive)
  • Human development (giving people a chance to improve their life)
  • Good stewardship of the environment (keeping resources viable for future generations)
  • Supporting equal rights for women
  • Opposing child labor and slavery

Return to index

Fair Trade Coffee

Is Fair Trade coffee also organic or shade-grown?

Fair Trade certification alone does not guarantee that products are organic or shade-grown. However, the majority of Fair Trade coffee does fall into one or both of these categories. Many of the small scale-farmers that sell coffee to Equal Exchange have cultivated coffee on the same small plots of land that their parents and grandparents used to plant coffee trees. They know that growing their coffee in ways that preserve the ecosystem will allow them to continue farming high-quality coffee on that land for years to come.

Equal Exchange’s organic products are certified organic by Oregon Tilth, a USDA-licensed certifying organization; however, coffee farmers seek organic certification from a variety of different certifying bodies depending on their nationality and the nationality of their target markets. Organic coffee production encourages multiple layers of shade coverage.

Return to index

Can individuals participate in the LWR Project, or just congregations?

Individuals are welcome to order coffee! When purchasing through the online store, just type “LWR COFFEE PROJECT” in the box that asks for your Congregation/Organization.

Return to index

Why does LWR partner with Equal Exchange, a for-profit company?

LWR values its partnership with Equal Exchange because of Equal Exchange’s mission-based business model and commitment to Fair Trade standards. (It is America’s oldest and largest 100% Fair Trade coffee roaster.) Like its coffee-farming partners overseas, Equal Exchange is a worker-owned cooperative. It builds long-term relationships with the coffee farming cooperatives. And, Equal Exchange donates a portion of the proceeds from coffee purchased through the LWR Coffee Project to our Small Farmer Fund, to support projects that help small farmers.

Return to index

Fair Trade Chocolate

Where do the cocoa beans come from?

The cocoa in Equal Exchange’s 100g bars and minis is grown with care by small-scale farmer co-operatives in the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Panama and Peru. The sugar and vanilla in their 100g chocolate bars and chocolate minis are also fairly traded and organic. The sugar comes from small-scale farmer co-ops in Paraguay and the vanilla from a co-op in Madagascar.

Return to index

We would like to sell chocolate as a fundraiser for our youth group. How do we go about doing that?

Equal Exchange has many options for congregations, schools and groups to participate in fundraising for their ministries at home while promoting Fair Trade products from around the world. Go to equalexchange.coop/programs/fundraising to learn more or call Equal Exchange’s Community Help Hotline at 508.427.5214.

Return to index

Why did LWR become a part owner of Divine Chocolate — a for-profit company?

The 45,000 farmers of Kuapa Kokoo asked us to buy into the company, and we were proud to join them as co-owners.

Every time LWR funds a project with one of our partner organizations, we make an investment. This situation is no different. By joining in partnership with the farmers of Kuapa Kokoo, we are equipping and empowering them to take a more active role in the cocoa industry by helping them establish Divine Chocolate and build the market for their cocoa products in the United States.

As part-owners, the members of Kuapa Kokoo are involved in the business decisions from “bean to bar,” and benefit not only when they sell their beans at a Fair Trade price, but again when they receive a share of the profits from the sale of their cocoa products.

Return to index

I heard that there is a big problem with child labor in cocoa. How do I know Divine Chocolate and Equal Exchange aren’t engaging in this practice?

One of Fair Trade’s strongest aspects is that products that are certified as Fair Trade have been independently verified by a third-party auditor. Equal Exchange’s cocoa is monitored – from the farmers to the store shelf – by independent, non-profit, certifying organizations that guarantee that the cocoa was produced and traded in a socially responsible manner, specifically in line with several international child and forced labor standards. Divine Chocolate buys their cocoa from Kuapa Kokoo, a 45,000 member cocoa cooperative (who also owns 45% of Divine Chocolate). They are certified by FLO (the Fairtrade Labelling Organization), and undergo an annual audit every year to make sure they are in compliance with all of the Fair Trade standards.

The Fair Trade standard around child labor is that children under 12 cannot engage in the most dangerous aspects of the profession (in this case, handling pesticides or using a machete), and children cannot work on the farm at the expense of going to school. This allows children to help out their parents without compromising their safety or education.

Auditors do not (and cannot) check each farm on every audit. They determine compliance by checking a random sample of farms, as well as looking at the cooperative’s own policies and enforcement of the Fair Trade standards. If either is found to be unacceptable, they are suspended until the problems are corrected. Suspensions can and do happen, and most cooperatives are able to correct these problems with education to their members and by strengthening their internal controls.

Currently, Fair Trade Certification is the closest that chocolate manufacturers (and consumers) can come to tracing their cocoa back to the farm level. Conventional traders might be able to tell you which country their cocoa came from, but they have no way of knowing what conditions for those farmers are like or how much they actually got paid.

Return to index

Why has the LWR Chocolate Project partnership with SERRV ended?

Since 2003, LWR has partnered with SERRV International to provide Divine Chocolate to Lutherans and Lutheran congregations in the U.S. In that time, people like you have bought more than $1.6 million in Divine Chocolate. Through those sales $107,000 has been donated back to LWR to support our work with smallholder farmers around the world.

On April 22, 2014 our Fair Trade partnership with SERRV came to an end. This decision was made to allow both organizations to be the best stewards of our resources. We continue to recognize and affirm SERRV’s mission of ending poverty and injustice wherever it resides.

Return to index

Ordering Fair Trade Products

How do I order Fair Trade products?


The easiest way to order is through the link above!

You may also order by phone using a credit card. Call Equal Exchange at 774.776.7340. Mention Lutheran World Relief when you place your order.

Return to index

Can my church be charged?

You can set up an account with Equal Exchange. They will send an invoice with your order that can be paid when you receive your products. Call 774.776.7340 to speak with a customer service representative.

Return to index

Subscribe to LWR eNews Create a Profile Track donations. Customize content.
LWR's Blog LWR In Depth Detailed information about the work that we do.