“It’s complicated. While it’s not always true that fair- and direct-trade supply chains contain fewer intermediaries taking profit, the idea of shorter supply chains is woven into language describing both systems—and it is often true. I’d love to increase awareness of fair trade as an empowerment tool for democratically run cooperatives of small-scale producers, and I’d love to note direct trade’s high standards for product taste quality. Some coffee drinkers see direct trade’s emphasis on taste quality as an advantage and gravitate toward it for that reason. 

But whereas fair trade often has certification labels, such as Fair Trade USA or Fair for Life, direct-trade’s standards are flexible, defined by each company individually and not verified by an independent party, so it’s impossible to guarantee that the coffee drinker will bestow any particular benefit by choosing direct-trade coffee compared to organic or other offerings.”

Kim Elena lonescu, chief sustainability officer, Specialty Coffee Association