Informal economy in coffee country: farmers’ use of Western certification schemes

  • Theresa Sønderskov Schaltz Aalborg University
  • Frederikke Korsgaard Bork Aalborg University
Keywords: coffee, fair trade, informality, Sustainable Development Goals, Colombia


This article investigates formal and informal economies in the Colombian coffee industry. We look at the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically goal no. 12 on Responsible Consumption and Production. One way of formalising is through the use of certifications. The article is based on fieldwork in Colombia, interviews with roasters and online research. We investigate the use of certifications as a way to ensure fair trade, natural resources and sustainable livelihoods, and look critically at certification programmes, and how certificates can be problematic for producers. Further, we look at direct trade as an alternative to established certification programmes. We look at direct trade, not as a replacement for formalized certification programmes, but as an alternative for some coffee producers, and we argue that there are several ways to include the United Nations’ SDG no. 12 into the coffee industry.


Benítez, Juan Carlos; Melguizo, Angel. 2016. “Informal is normal in Latin America: taxes matter.” OECD Development Matters, 19 December. <>. Accessed 19 December 2019.

Bruton, Garry D.; Ireland, R. Duane; Ketchen Jr., David J. 2012. “Toward a Research Agenda on the Informal Economy.” Academy of Management Perspectives 26 (3): 1-11.

Cooagronevada. 2019. “Who we are.” Cooagronevada. <>. Accessed 19 December 2019.

Fairtrade Foundation. 2019. “Who we are.” Fairtrade Foundation. <>. Accessed 19 December 2019.

Fairtrade International. 2019. “What is Fairtrade? ” Fairtrade International. <>. Accessed 6 June 2019.

FAO. 2014. Impact of international voluntary standards on smallholder market participation in developing countries: a review of literature. Rome: FAO.

London, Christopher. 2012. “Coffee, Certification, and the Incorrigibility of Capitalism.” Social Research, 79 (4): 1045-1069.

MacGregor, Finlay; Ramasar, Vasna; Nicholas, Kimberley A. 2017. “Problems with firm-led voluntary sustainability schemes: the case of direct trade coffee.” Sustainability 9 (4), 651.

Murray, Douglas L.; Raynolds, Laura T.; Taylor, Peter L., 2006. “The future of Fair Trade coffee: dilemmas facing Latin America’s small-scale producers.” Development in Practice, 16 (2): 179-192.

Overbeek, Ashley. 2015. “Examining the efficacy of fair trade and alternative consumption on environmental sustainability and human rights in developing countries.” Consilience, 13 (1): 165-178.

Rice, Robert A. 1999. “A place unbecoming: the coffee farm of northern Latin America.” Geographical Review, 89 (4): 554-579.

Rogers, Levi., 2019. “Unraveling the mystery of coffee prices: one roaster’s journey.” Daily Coffee News, 15 July. <>. Accessed 19 December 2019.

Schepers, Donald H. 2010. “Challenges to legitimacy at the Forest Stewardship Council.” Journal of Business Ethics 92 (2): 279-290.

Schouten, Greetje; and Bitzer, Verena. 2015. “The emergence of southern standards in agricultural value chains.” Ecological Economics 120: 175-184.

Taylor, Peter L., 2005. “In the Market But Not of It: Fair Trade Coffee and Forest Stewardship Council Certification as Market-Based Social Change.” World Development 33(1): 129–147.

UNDP (United Nations Development Programme). 2019a. “Background of the Sustainable Development Goals.” UNDP. <>. Accessed 19 December 2019.

UNDP. 2019b. “Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production.” UNDP. <>. Accessed 4 May 2019.

UNDP. 2019c. “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” UNDP. <>. Accessed 4 May 2019.

Vicol, Mark; Neilson, Jeffrey; Hartatri, Diany; Cooper, Peter. 2018. “Upgrading for whom? Relationship coffee, value chain interventions and rural development in Indonesia.” World Development 110: 26-37.

WCED (UN World Commission on Environment and Development). 1987. Our common future. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wilson, Tamar D. 2011. “Introduction: approaches to the informal economy.” Urban Anthropology and Studies of Cultural Systems and World Economic Development 40 (3/4): 205-221.

How to Cite
Schaltz, T. S., & Bork, F. K. (2019). Informal economy in coffee country: farmers’ use of Western certification schemes. Diálogos Latinoamericanos, 20(28), 104-117. Retrieved from