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The Evil of Two Lessors

No I am not taking about the corporate firm of D&R (Democrats and Republicans), but rather partial Fair Trade and anti fair trade products. The argument goes all fair trade is the same since they are certified by the same organization. One could argue that a little fair trade is better than none at all, but there is as much validity to the argument that bad fair trade does more damage than good.

Yes it is true that Trans Fair USA has a set of criteria to certify fair trade coffee. But for some companies this does not go far enough. If a company is selling Fair Trade products  but subsidizing it with sweat shop products,  then that’s certainly not a great leap forward.  In addition if companies are jumping from one local farmer to another year after year, that really is not that different than the anti fair trade model we currently have.

Just Coffee has put forward a set of principles that define what they refer to as 100% Fair Trade.

  • 100% Fair Trade -Opportunity to change the global economy into something that puts the needs of people before the profit margins of companies.
  • Prefinancing – A “fair price” only works when it is paid in a way that works for farmers. Often farmers face a severe cash shortage going into the
    harvest season.
  • Longterm Relationships -Many roasters and importers buy “fair trade coffee” from different co-ops every year depending on quality and convenience.
  • Worker Cooperatives -We support the original vision of fair trade that aims to help small-scale producers stay on their land and off of the plantations.

3 responses to “The Evil of Two Lessors

  1. The argument that shops that don’t exclusively sell fair trade coffee can merely subsidize their fair trade sales with non-fair trade coffee is a bit disingenuous. Ultimately, the point is to get as many people purchasing fair trade as possible. You can do that two ways: 1) Convince consumers to opt for fair trade rather than the non-fair trade products, or 2) Demand (probably through legislation) that stores can only offer fair trade products. After all, if a store doesn’t offer non-fair trade coffee and the consumer isn’t interested in paying for the fair trade coffee that the store offers because they can go down the street to purchase non-fair trade coffee for cheaper, then that’s exactly what they’ll do.

    In other words, first and foremost you need to get people interested in buying fair trade products. If you toss too many requirements on them to start — like they need to go out of their way to buy it or they need to pay significantly more for it — then they just won’t do it. And to simply take a “well, screw them” attitude about it doesn’t help the fair trade farmers at all.

    It’s better to send different messages to different people. For those who aren’t convinced about fair trade products, but are willing to be convinced, it’s best to say that simply looking for the fair trade label whenever possible is good enough (at least to start), even if that means they find it at the chain grocery store they go to each week, anyway. Those were the people I was addressing in my post. If they want to go to a place like Just Coffee or a co-op like Outpost instead, all the better. But I’d rather have them purchasing fair trade coffee from somewhere rather than not at all.

    For those who are already committed to the idea of fair trade, making a case like you do — that they should consider taking their fair trade purchases a step further by finding a committed retailer like Just Coffee that can personalize and hone, so to speak, the fair trade purchase — is a worthwhile route to go, but I think it would be jumping the gun for the group I was addressing.

  2. Seth,

    I agree. It is not the retailers that it was directed at but the roasters. The problem being when a roaster makes both fair trade and sweat shop labor coffee. In those circumstances the fair trade coffee is often subsidized by the sweat shop brands.

    I think there is this tendency to be lazy for a lack of better work because a product a certified by Fair Trade USA. It often translates to a livable wage by local standards. What exactly does that mean. I am willing to buy Fair Trade if it is real change in the economic sphere, less so it is simply a 25 cent an hour raise.

    For Fair Trade to really work it has to change our interaction in the market. We must begin to make our economic decisions with cultural, moral, and social factors in mind. If it does not alter our interaction in the end it will make little difference.

  3. We’re in agreement that adding cultural, moral, and social factors to our interactions with the marketplace is ideal. Simply spotting a label is a highly passive — and thereby less ideal — way of engaging in fair trade, but it’s better than nothing, and for many it’s a good start.

    I think the issue of subsidization applies in a similar way to roasters as it does retailers. The only way to get more fair trade coffee is to increase the demand for fair trade coffee. All of the existing fair trade drinkers could aim their business at only those roasters who roast 100% fair trade coffee, but, in the end, that’s not going to help get more fair trade business to growers. The only way to do that is increase demand.

    And the idea of fair trade certification is that it guarantees a minimum price as determined by the Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International. So it’s not just about a raise, but also a living wage that will remain stable even as prices on the non-fair trade market fluctuate and hit severe lows like they did a few years ago. Plus, the fair trade certification from TransFair USA ensures that importers must pay 5 cents for every pound sold to go back into the grower’s community for educatonal and development purposes. More info on TransFair’s certification, as well as its justification for certifying products at big box stores, can be found here.

    And, just so you know, I’ve bought my last coffee from Trader Joe’s. I’ll still shop there for most of my groceries (they are known for providing workers with excellent pay and benefits, as well as environmentally-friendly practices) but I’ve decided to get my coffee from Outpost (along with the few other items I already get there, including tea) . I was there today and found a few coffees that are roasted locally through Peace Coffee, so I’ll be going with those.

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