Saturday, January 19, 2008

This Interests Me, And I Don't Even Drink Coffee

"Fair trade" coffee isn't all it's cracked up to be.

You'd think this confluence of social responsibility and double lattes, good business practices and lefty politics, would make Katzeff a happy man. But he and a growing number of roasters say the Fair Trade movement has lost its way. The movement has always aroused suspicion on the right, where free traders object to its price floors and anti-globalization rhetoric. Yet critics from the left are more vocal and more angry by half; they point to unhappy farmers, duped consumers, an entrenched Fair Trade bureaucracy, and a grassroots campaign gone corporate.

Honestly, though--how can I be surprised?

17 comments:

Ellen K said...

I've been suspicious of the Fair Trade label since it popped up in regards to global fundraising. On one website that offers people a chance to click to provide either food for animals, food for people, etc. there is a section where you can purchase "Fair Trade" goods. There's also a tab where you can meet the artisans. For the most part these are poor people, many women, who do handwork such as weaving, embroidery or basketry and then sell their products via this site. But there are also glass artisans and jewelers from North America who see on this site-which seems to conflict with the idea of opening up a global marketplace for underserved nations. I do actually like some of the products and might even buy them, but after reading that article, I am going to wonder how many other artisans who could not fulfill this groups requirements were shut out of the process.

Darren said...

Imagine, the moment a coffee farmer somewhere becomes successful enough to be able to hire one worker, he can no longer be certified as "fair trade". In other words, this label might help you a little bit, but not too much. The process is designed to keep you down--it's oppressive.

rightwingprof said...

You don't drink coffee? How do you survive?

Darren said...

Chocolate.

MikeAT said...

I brew Community New Orleans Blend...on the job I often get Starbucks free! :) Where the beans come from I don't care.

And what a surprise...a leftist idiot creates a bureaucracy that leaches off people trying to make a living. Does that sound familiar?

Ellen K said...

I knew I liked your style Darren. Chocolate it is. My greatest fear is that they will discover what I already know-it's addictive-and the government will issue it only by prescription.....argh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Darren said...

Riots in the streets.

MikeAT said...

Ellen K

When I met Darren many moons ago in Colorado I was shocked anyone in the army did not soak up caffeine from one source or another. There was something "abby normal" about that!

And yes, chocolate is awesome in any fashion.

Darren said...

Not entirely true, Mike. I love tea.

Earl Grey. Hot. :-)

Ellen K said...

English Breakfast for me-with vanilla creamer if available. BTW-nasty little secret for which I may be prosecuted-I don't like Starbucks' coffee. The beans taste burned. While I will consume free coffee from the teachers' lounge on cold days, I don't frequently Starbucks except on the rare occasions my friends want to meet there.

allen said...

> BTW-nasty little secret for which I may be prosecuted-I don't like Starbucks' coffee.

Wow. Starbucks has more of a grip on the American psyche then I thought.

You must live/work in San Francisco or Ann Arbor. I knew things were bad but I didn't realized a failure to be fashionable was now a criminal offense.

MikeAT said...

Darren

I don't recall you ever drinking tea when we were at 1/3 AD. Maybe later, but not then.

Ellen K

I like SB and I love a Frappuccino! Just gotta stay away from them...they can really shrink the pants :)

Ronnie said...

Fair trade coffee actually came up in my "Technology in America" class today. After the lecture I took some time to learn about the issues involved and the reality of the situation. It seems that every study says it has helped improve the lives of the growers involved. It seems that the problems people have with fair trade coffee is that in the long run it won't work because as soon as fair trade expands it causes market wide problems. Sure it could be more streamlined and it looks like there is a lot of waste through bureaucracy, but at this point I haven't read anything pointing out negative real world effects. Almost every complaint I've found has been ideological in nature, either saying its too radical or not radical enough, but in every study it has had a positive effect.

Darren said...

It's an interesting form of oppression, Ronnie. It'll help the farmer a little bit--but not too much! Remember, as soon as he's successful enough to hire just *1* full-time worker, he can no longer be certified as *fair trade*.

What you described, though--helps the individuals involved--sounds like unions, or medieval guilds, or cartels. It'll help *me*, but at the expense of someone else.

It's a poorly designed, selfish system. I've no doubt it helps some few, but not most. You know what helps most? A lightly regulated "free" market.

Ronnie said...

You fall under the section of people who complain about it over ideology obviously, since you didn't even listen. You say it is hurting those who aren't Fair Trade growers, but the problem with that argument is that it hasn't been shown to do that and for a very good reason. The market for fair trade coffee is so small most fair trade growers can't sell their entire crop through fair trade deals even. I agree that eventually once the market expands and there are more fair trade growers problems will occur and harm will be done to those not involved. My only point was that at present there have been no observed real world negative consequences.

I've always been a fan of free trade myself, and don't see any good reason to pay more for a good to help its producer. Really I see the entire thing as extremely inefficient charity and environmentalism. In the end any real change has to come from the growers' governments imposing reasonable labor and environmental laws.

Darren said...

How come when I'm against it I'm "complaining", yet you casually point out, apparently without complaining, that it's "extremely inefficient charity and environmentalism" that cannot work on a larger scale.

Like I said, it's cartel-like. That's not a complaint, that's a criticism--and a valid one at that.

What separates me from lefties, though, is I'm not willing to use government to enforce this unfairness. If people want to support this system, they should feel free--as long as they don't compel me to support it as well.

Ronnie said...

I fully agree its a flawed system, and as you can clearly see from my comment I'm not a supporter. My only point is that no negative effects have been realized at this point and all criticisms over ideals as of yet have not actually occurred, meaning people who like inefficient charity for some reason aren't causing harm to anyone by doing it as of now. My point that it's inefficient charity is a complaint and criticism, but it isn't just an ideal it's a reality. Really the only difference between your complaint and my complaint is my is happening and yours most likely will happen sometime in the future. You shouldn't be so defensive when someone is agreeing with you, lol.