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Fair Trade or Fairly Traded

Coffee Talk May 07, VolXX, No.5 by Sam Kornell
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This is a great article that highlights the debates currently raging in Fair Trade circles: the place of multinationals, the role of FLO, and the minimum price of FT coffee. Many members are featured in the article, and Cooperative Coffees is given as an example of a player that is staying true to the integrity of the movement.

coffeetalkcovermed.bmpCoffeeTalk May 2007
Sam Kornell

In the last few years, fair trade coffee has become something of a market sensation.  The recipient of glowing media coverage by everyone from the Today Show to the New York Times, it is one of the fastest growing segments of the specialty coffee market, totaling $500 million in U.S. sales in 2005. According to a study by the National Coffee Association conducted in 2006, 20 percent of Americans know about fair trade, and of those, 56 percent say they are willing to buy coffee based exclusively on its fair-trade status. (Fair trade is even more popular in Europe.) Wal-Mart now sells fair trade, as does Dunkin’ Donuts, Procter & Gamble, Sara Lee, Nestlé, McDonald’s, and Starbucks.

Yet even as fair trade’s popularity is burgeoning, so is criticism—and not just by conservative economists who view it as anti-competitive and anti-free market. Increasingly, longtime grassroots fair traders are calling into question how well fair trade is living up to the ideal it promotes. They point to disgruntled farmers, bureaucratic rigidity, and, the growing bond between fair trade coffee and multiconglomerate corporations. This last issue rankles especially; the marriage of Wal-Mart and fair trade, critics say, is of commerce and convenience, not ethics, and, the critics claim, it violates the principles fair trade was founded on.

Since 1997 fair trade has been governed by the Fair Trade Labeling Organizations International (FLO), a Bonn-based association of 20 national labeling organizations around the world. The FLO is responsible for vetting production sites in Latin America, Africa, and Asia where fair trade goods are grown and produced (in addition to coffee, there is fair trade tea, cocoa, bananas—even clothing). Organizations such as TransFairUSA, the national labeling organization for the U.S., certify the document trail—the actual buying and selling of fair trade products.

click here to read the rest of the article in pdf format

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