An Unfair Deal

Fair trade is overrated.

BY JOSHUA E. KEATING

If paying an extra buck or two for the "fair-trade" option at your local coffee shop makes you feel more virtuous about your place in the global economy, you’re not alone. Ethical beans are big business: In 2010, the United States imported 108 million pounds of fair-trade-certified coffee — purchased directly from small producers, who have to abide by agreed-upon standards including shorter hours and no child labor. That total represents 1,385 times more of the stuff than came into the U.S. in 1998. But does fair trade actually do anything to help the people who grow coffee escape poverty?

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