How Fair is Fair Trade?

What's the difference between Fair Trade and Direct Trade? Read about why conscious consumers are supporting the direct trade coffee movement.
Fair Trade Coffee
These days, conscientious consumers often look out for the Fair Trade logo before sitting down to enjoy their morning cuppa, whether they are at home or out and about. However, fair trade may not be the ethical guarantee you’re seeking. 

Here’s an explainer, plus some information about a better alternative.

Misconceptions About Fair Trade

Because many products, especially coffee, are sourced from developing countries, growers and workers need protection from exploitation. The Fair Trade movement was established to fight the mistreatment of disempowered people. However, sources such as outline the misconceptions consumers have about Fair Trade. For example: 

- Fair Trade benefits growers in the long term: Not necessarily. Fair Trade has not yet proved to make a positive difference.
- Fair Trade ensures growers get the best prices for their goods: Fair Trade can limit the market potential of growers because of the time and effort put towards compliance.
- Fair Trade is up to date and moves with the times: Fair Trade has changed very little since its inception.
- Fair Trade coffee is better quality: Fair Trade coffee doesn’t necessarily go through the same rigorous quality testing that other coffee does. 


While the Fair Trade mission is admirable and definitely has its place in the world, the truth is it is not perfect. Fair Trade is a nod towards ethical trade but has yet to achieve it. At its worst, Fair Trade can just be ‘greenwashing’.

The Direct Trade Movement 

The good news is that Fair Trade is not the only option. The Direct Trade movement gives buyers the opportunity to partner with growers in a more meaningful way. It generally works to ensure that growers in developing countries earn the money they deserve. 

Old Quarter Coffee Direct Trade

One of the issues with Fair Trade is that it guarantees a price from the seller but does not factor in profit. The price a buyer pays may not cover the cost it took to produce the beans, let alone enough to create a prosperous future.

With Direct Trade: 

- Growers are paid actual market price
- The whole trade process, from bean farm to coffee cup, is traceable and transparent
- Benefits to growers trickle through their communities
- Sustainable farming practices are encouraged
- Coffee is usually of a higher quality
    However, it's important to note that because the Direct Trade movement is unregulated, not every company claiming to be Direct Trade delivers better results for farmers. That's why at Old Quarter, we've created our Green Bean Buying Principles to ensure the buying process delivers these benefits to the community. Initiatives like our Optimism Exchange Program represent a commitment to the communities where the coffee is grown that goes above and beyond any certifications requirements.

    Get to Know the Old Quarter's Optimism Exchange Program




    Optimism Exchange is our Social Community Development program across Asia, aimed at creating positive impact. We work closely with our farming partners and their community to determine the project that will help with their vital needs. We commit to these projects and raise awareness with our coffee-loving Australian community to support initiatives to positively impact the lives of the people who grow our coffee and their entire community.
    With Social Impact projects completed in Sumatra (2019) and Vietnam (2018), our latest Optimism Exchange Program is now focusing on Laos. Around the world, farmers work all day so Australians can have quality coffee. Helping to provide clean drinking water is the least we can do in exchange.

    Optimism Exchange Laos Water Well Project

    Good Coffee, Good Water 

    The Laos Good Drop coffee is from a village called Dak Cheung, in Sekong Province, southern Laos. The area around Dak Cheung is one of the most underdeveloped with the majority of people living as subsistence farmers. Coffee is the lifeblood of many communities and we are deeply honoured to be beginning our farmer relationships here.

    Day to day our Laos farming partners don't have access to clean drinking water. The children in the village miss school to collect water and disease and infection from unsafe water is commonplace. 

    Make a difference with every cup 

    Join the Direct Trade movement. Support Old Quarter’s Laos Good Drop Optimism Exchange Campaign, and every cup of coffee you drink will make a direct difference to a farming community in this developing nation. 

    With the Laos Good Drop, you can help change the lives of our farming partners and their entire village, just by buying your coffee. Every kilo of coffee sold, we'll donate 10% to help build a much-needed water well for our farming partners and their community. 

    Now that's what we call a Good Drop!

    Buy the Laos Good Drop coffee online where 10% of every kilo sold will be donated to build a water well OR purchase a Laos Good Drop Donation Card, where 100% of the proceeds will go towards the project.

    Discover Sth East Asian Specialty Coffee

    Shop our coffees

    Search our store