College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

Full Title of Thesis or Dissertation

Fair trade and development goals in the coffee sector

Graduation Date


Document Type


Department/Program Conferring Degree

International Studies


fair trade, coffee, development, family farmer, direct trade


Although fair trade is a step in the right direction, this thesis argues that some of its claims and approaches may be problematic with respect to development goals. As one of the world’s most highly traded commodities and an income source for tens of millions of people worldwide, coffee has become one of the star products championed by fair trade efforts aimed at sustainable development. The discourse surrounding both fair trade and development has been affected by various theories and criticisms, which is considered in the literature review, influencing the overall trajectory of the discussion. This paper looks at some of the claims made by fair trade organizations, as well as claims made in response by direct trade organizations, identifying where claims overlap or there are gaps in the discourse. By identifying overlaps and gaps, this thesis seeks to reconcile the large discussion surrounding development and the claims made by fair trade companies. In doing so, these issues may provide a starting point for future researchers to delve further into the significance and impact of these approaches for the family farmer as well as provide suggestions for best practices for new or developing social justice and trade-oriented organizations.