Sunday, May 20, 2007

Fair Trade Coffee

Colleen E. H. Berndt has an essay up on TCSDaily about Fair Trade Coffee (FTC). It is an interesting critique of a well intentioned plan.

For instance, FTC is a designation that is "open only to co-operatives composed of farmers owning fewer than 12 acres of land and who do not employ any full-time workers. The co-operative must then pay the FLO to certify that the co-operative, not the member farms, meets specific standards for socially and environmentally sound coffee growing and accept the FLO's mandated organizational structures. No matter how well run or how benevolent a non-cooperative private organization is, no matter how well paid or well treated its employees are, that organization cannot obtain Fair Trade certification." It seems that FTC is not so much about ensuring that laborers are compensated justly for their work, but that coffee is produced in accord with a commune-like ideal.


Triumvir Vis said...

While certainly a decent critique of the extent of the FTC project's benefit, what do you then conclude from this? Which purchase better supports those actually working and harvesting? While Fair Trade Coffee may not consider the seasonal worker, non-Fair Trade Coffee certainly gives those workers no more consideration.

Colleen Berndt said...

I am not sure I agree, Triumvir. Non-FT coffee production rewards workers for producing quality. The quality of the coffee is vunerable to the harvesting process. The harvest worker must pick only ripe berries from among a mixture of ripe and unripe. A poorly paid worker...or an unskilled harvester, will strip all berries off the branch at once, resulting in a low quality harvest. Therefore, quality producers tend to pay their seasonal labor well (above minimum wage) in order to guarantee the higher quality.

It follows then, that if you wish to reward hard-working seasonal laborers, you should buy the finest quality of coffee you can afford. (This is generally well above the FT quality, BTW.)

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