Sunday, November 19, 2006

New domain for Fair Trade Coffee News

While this blog will remain in this location for some time, as an archive of posts to date, the new domain for the Fair Trade Coffee News blog is:

All new posts will appear on the new domain. So if you have this site bookmarked or have captured the feed, please change your bookmark or feed at:

Thank you for your patience during this transition.


Friday, November 17, 2006

Fair Trade as an impetus for the growth of social capitalism.

Fair trade coffee continues to grow in popularity. More and more people are hearing about it. And coffee drinkers find it easy to make the choice to support small coffee farmers simply by looking for the Fair Trade logo when buying coffee.

Herein lies much of the power of fair trade: people find it easy to “give” when they are going to buy something anyway.

Within the context of making a daily purchase, consumers feel very little internal resistance when paying extra to support a cause they agree with. Their frame of mind is quite different from when they are asked to make a charitable donation to a national or local non-profit.

Would you make a donation to a non-profit on a weekly basis? Most of us don’t. But we do buy fair trade coffee each week.

Our willingness to help when we are asked to make a purchase, rather than to make a donation, is a key driver of social capitalism.

Here’s a short excerpt from a recent article in Fast Company magazine:

“For guidance in this new realm, business is looking to social entrepreneurs. Not because they excel at that do-gooder thing, but because they have sophisticated, tested theories of change. They know their markets. They understand systems and levers of action as few others do. And, as many clever companies are learning, they can be great partners in endeavors that are good for the world and good for the bottom line.”

The success of the fair trade coffee movement has created a valuable case study for social entrepreneurs to explore.

If there is money to be made by doing the “right thing” through fair trade, what other opportunities are waiting just around the corner?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

How many times do you find yourself saying "Wrong!" while reading this short piece on fair trade coffee?

Here's a comment from a reader of the Daily Texan Online.

I found 11 places where I said to myself...Wrong!

"Poverty is definitely a problem that the world needs to address, but "fair-trade" and "living wage" policies are not intelligent ways of doing it ("Destitution in your cup," Oct. 2). Oversupply of any commodity will cause that commodity's price to plummet; these are the simple workings of supply and demand. Any policy that attempts to undermine them will also undermine any impetus for real change in the world.

Artificially rising the price of coffee so that farmers will earn wages that we deem "acceptable" will remove any motivation for these workers to learn new skills and for their children to focus on education. A better use of our time and resources would be to promote commercial and industrial development in the world's poorer nations, and then connect the indigent with these jobs. With fewer farmers providing coffee, the price of coffee will naturally increase. Furthermore, former farmers will find themselves pursuing high-tech jobs that pay better, offer better upward mobility and produce both products and knowledge that benefit the entire country.

Abandon those candy-coated yet noxious notions of "fair-trade" and "living wages" - we can do much better."

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Is Fair Trade Coffee a Scam?

No, it isn’t. But that’s what the headline suggests at the top of this blog entry.

The post and the comments which follow are interesting, particularly with regard to property rights in developing countries. But still, the headline is clearly provocative, and deliberately so.

The fair trade coffee movement is human. It seeks to do the right thing, but is still flawed in its execution.

But regardless of problems with its policing and administration, fair trade does result in improvements to the lives of small coffee growers.

And beyond that, it has a very important influence on western consumers.

It makes us aware and conscious of the impact of our buying choices. When we buy fair trade produce and products, we are making a conscious choice, based on increased awareness and the desire to do what is right.

At a time when so many of our buying and life choices are largely unconscious – that is to say, we make them without critical thinking and careful self-examination of our reasons – fair trade provides an important balance.

When people buy fair trade coffee, they not only support individuals, groups and communities in developing countries, but also raise the social consciousness of Western consumers, even if only by a fraction.

And over time, that can make a big difference, even if the number of people consistently supporting fair trade is still relatively small.

As anthropologist Margaret Meade said, "Never underestimate the ability of a small, dedicated group of people to change the world. Indeed, that's the only way it's ever happened".

Sunday, September 17, 2006

An excellent background to the ongoing story of fair trade coffee

Siel, aka Green LA Girl, has put together a list of previous “coffee crisis” posts, which make for very interesting and informative reading.

If you have just recently become interested in the fair trade coffee movement, you may want to read through her posts.

Also, she writes well...which always makes reading her entries a lot more enjoyable.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Fair Trade Coffee Workers being paid less than minimum wage.

There are more cracks appearing within the administration of the fair trade coffee system.

This article, originally published in the Financial Times, unearths cases of fair trade money not going where it should, workers being paid less than they should, and coffee being sold as fair trade when it’s not.

Here is just a short excerpt from that article:

"Ethical" coffee is being produced in Peru, the world's top exporter of Fairtrade coffee, by labourers paid less than the legal minimum wage. Industry insiders have also told the FT of non-certified coffee being marked and exported as Fairtrade, and of certified coffee being illegally planted in protected rainforest.

This casts doubt on the certification process used by Fairtrade and similar marks that require producers to pay the minimum wage.

It also raises questions about the assurances certifiers give consumers about how premium-priced fair trade coffee is produced.
As I have mentioned before in this blog, these kinds of problems threaten public trust in fair trade and have the potential to bring the entire movement to its knees.

I’m not saying the administration of the fair trade system is not enormously complicated, especially when dealing with so many small growers in so many parts of the world. It is clearly a huge challenge to administer and police such a widespread movement.

That said, fair trade is enormously important to the world. Its impact on coffee farmers, the growth of social consciousness in the west…and its position as an alternative to free trade…make fair trade profoundly important to our future.

With the stakes being so high, I think we would do better to slow the growth of the movement, and make absolutely sure that it is administered and policed effectively. There is absolutely no benefit to pushing for faster expansion, if the foundations of the movement itself are shaky.

Without public trust in fair trade, we have nothing.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Fair Trade Coffee in Peru...up close and personal

I recently came across Noah Enelow’s blog, and I look forward to following his progress.

He is an economist and, from what I understand, he will shortly be embarking on a year-long research visit to Peru.

His intention is to study the workings and impact of fair trade on coffee farmers at the local level, where it happens.

Personally, I look forward to reading his journal. We all see and hear a great deal about fair trade coffee in the West (or North). But what has been missing for me, and maybe others, is a clear picture of what it means at the local, community level in regions where small farmers participate in fair trade cooperatives.

I wish Noah luck, and hope he finds the time to blog fully and frequently during his trip.