Interesting article about Fair Trade

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Interesting article about Fair Trade

Postby nick on Fri Feb 10, 2006 3:36 pm

Check it out:

http://www.reason.com/0603/fe.kh.absolution.shtml

Thoughts?
(FYI, Reason is a libertarian magazine.)
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Postby aaronblanco on Fri Feb 10, 2006 5:25 pm

are there any coffee retailers/wholesalers out there in coffeed land who purposely don't sell fair trade certified coffees?
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Re: Interesting article about Fair Trade

Postby barry on Fri Feb 10, 2006 9:30 pm

nick wrote:Check it out:

http://www.reason.com/0603/fe.kh.absolution.shtml

Thoughts?
(FYI, Reason is a libertarian magazine.)



i can't believe geoff actually said "incentivize". :roll:


overall, it seemed to be a pretty balanced & well-researched article.

iirc, the reaction in the crowd at the claremont was essentially, "why are they protesting us? no one here buys that salvadoran crap. they should go talk to folgers."


--barry "since 1988"
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Postby Peter Van de Reep on Fri Feb 10, 2006 9:59 pm

Thanks for the link! Great stuff said by all... I used to Reason at my old school's library.
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Postby Peter G on Sat Feb 11, 2006 5:08 am

This is the most well reaserched and articulated article about Fair Trade I've read in a long time. Although I consider myself slightly more sympathetic to the co-ops than the author seems to be (I do believe that small farmer co-ops are an important, positive thing that should be supported), I believe that she explains the problems inherent in FT certification and TransFair's role well.

I'm suprised she didn't mention the initiative to include private farms in TransFair certification that happened a few years ago, which was protested via sit-in at the conference in Boston. (in which Katzeff was a participant, if I remember correctly)

It would be so great if TransFair got some real competition one day from another certificate. Funny, lots of folks in Australia use the Rainforest Alliance certificate as a Fair Trade equivalent.

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Postby Jeff Givens on Sat Feb 11, 2006 6:50 am

Very good article. I have to say though, that I don't agree with Nick Cho's assertion that customers shouldn't be asking about their coffee's origins. I think that it's a good thing that customers want to know where their coffee comes from and the conditions under which it was produced.

It's up to the shop owners to educate the consumer that Fair Trade is only one approach to addressing the inequities in coffee production (albeit an imperfect one).
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Postby coffeeactivist on Sat Feb 11, 2006 9:00 am

I don't think the idea was the customer shouldn't ask about the origin. It's that they shouldn't assume that Nick buys cheap crap coffee that somehow magically tastes great still...
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Postby Tim Dominick on Sat Feb 11, 2006 10:42 pm

Consumers like fair trade because they desire a third party assurance. You might well have a top-notch, epic cup quality competition winning lot that you paid $17 bucks a pound for, but can you offer a third party evaluation of the labor practices employed by the estate or farmer? Sure, the don of the clan is making a fair price but how about the pickers?

Social justice issues drive some people the way ultra-premium coffees drive others...

The world needs a healthy mix of progressive buying systems. Fair trade is one of them, auctions are another. Direct relationships are yet another. An organization designed to certify the social equity on estates and family farms outside of cooperatives would be a fourth system that would be quite useful.

We can always sit back and find weakness in every system, perhaps we need to look at the net benefit each system offers and be pleased that there has been a collective step in the right direction during the past 15 years.
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Postby Munali on Sun Apr 23, 2006 10:23 pm

Anybody familiar with Utz Kapeh certification? We opted to certfy farm with them. But then there is so many different certifications now and I don't think that end of the day farmer will end up getting better prices anyway.
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Postby Steve on Mon Apr 24, 2006 3:02 am

are there any coffee retailers/wholesalers out there in coffeed land who purposely don't sell fair trade certified coffees?


Kind of, we don't sell any fairtrade coffee. We have bought some in the past and sold them as standard offerings, because sometimes by chance a fair trade coffee's can be quite good by chance never by design.

We feel out of love with the fairtrade a few years back, what with the money they spend on advertising, giving the big boys a chance to make themselves look good when changing nothing, and spending millions of changing a logo. But also the lack of quality coffee that was coming through. I was having to compromise my coffee's to appease some people who didn't think you could give a farmer a good deal, without the hundreds of people sitting in an office all over the world,giving a stamp of approval.
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Postby aaronblanco on Mon Apr 24, 2006 10:39 am

Anybody familiar with Utz Kapeh certification? We opted to certfy farm with them. But then there is so many different certifications now and I don't think that end of the day farmer will end up getting better prices anyway.


ha! i thought i had read about munali before! here's the link to an article i had read earlier this year about zambian coffee and farms.

http://www.teaandcoffee.net/0106/special.htm

from what little i've read about utz kapeh it sounds more comprehensive than fair trade. i'm most curious...how has being certified by utz kapeh helped your production and your people?
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Postby aaronblanco on Mon Apr 24, 2006 10:48 am

steve, thanks for your reply there. i'm no expert cupper with exhaustive experience but i'm trying hard to recall a time i've cupped a fair trade certified coffee that i actually liked--even cupping blind. i don't seek out ft, nor if/when i open a retail space do i think i'll bother selling it. i guess my current thinking on it is that ft ends up being almost communist or like a labor union in that it de-incentivizes the extra work to produce a sterling product if it's just going to be tossed in with average or sub-average beans from a neighboring farm in the co-op. why try harder if you're a)the top quality farm in the co-op; or b)the poorest quality farm in the co-op? you both get the same pre-agreed price.

please, someone correct or broaden my perspective if you have contrary evidence.

peter g, do you have any more information since your post above about the movement to ft certify private farms?
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Postby Tim Dominick on Mon Apr 24, 2006 12:00 pm

There are some progressive cooperatives who are making the shift towards isolating and selling top lots on their merits and/or entering them into national competitions. Nicaragua, Ethiopia, and Bolivia are coming to mind. These origins have fair trade offerings that can hold their own on any cupping table.

This concept of culling the best isn't going to take root in every cooperative. There are logistical issues, political issues, and frankly Transfair (and some of it's aformentioned outspoken roaster-members) don't like the notion that one farmer will be more rewarded than another. Truly a missed opportunity to improve the entire cooperative!!

If your FT coffee comes from a spot offering sheet, sadly you are probably buying a bag that contains a fraction of great coffee alongside some poorer coffees. If you are in a situation where you can select your lots before they are blended, then you are getting a nice coffee that just happens to have a FT label attached. (This is how it should be, leave the segundos for millstone)
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Postby Steve on Mon Apr 24, 2006 12:36 pm

If your FT coffee comes from a spot offering sheet, sadly you are probably buying a bag that contains a fraction of great coffee alongside some poorer coffees.


I've cupped some great fair trade lots from a spot sheet, but as you suggest Tim many more average ones.

I remember a Nicaraguan from 2004 crop that was awesome coffee. The coop came 5th in the cup of excellence that year, and a UK importer had as a spot offering available fair trade. I cupped it and felt guilty I was paying so little for a coffee that fetched $5.05 at COE auction. OK so it wasn't up there with the COE lot but it was kicking coffee. So to say all FT's are bad is simply not true or fair.

Now if you say most then thats a different story :)
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Postby aaronblanco on Mon Apr 24, 2006 3:47 pm

everyone knows that all generalizations are, of course, false. yet stereotypes and received wisdom about FT quality being inconsistent at best do seem to have their basis in reality. in the end, it's a western mentality that misunderstands developing world issues, don't you think? fair trade puts a new pair of shoes on the feet of a crippled man. it seems like the right course of treatment for the wrong diagnosis. "just throw money at it. that's what the poor farmers need." but has fair trade stopped the boom and bust cycles of coffee? is it too early to tell?
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Postby David LaMont on Mon Apr 24, 2006 6:04 pm

This may not fit exactly into the current stream of the discussion, but I noticed this in reading about the new Intelligentsia location opening soon in Millennium Park:

With the goal of creating a whole new model for the Specialty Coffee industry, Intelligentsia Direct Trade is a commitment, requiring continued collaboration and ongoing involvement in the actual growing of coffee beans and the farmer who grow them. Fair Trade coffee was an important first step in the lives of coffee growers throughout the world by setting up pricing structures to ensure baseline prices for coffee. Intelligentsia Direct Trade now links quality and price in a manner lacking in the current Fair Trade system. Ultimately, Intelligentsia Direct Trade results in higher compensation for growers and better coffee for consumers.


Sounds like a fairly clean transition away from Fair Trade (if that's what is occuring...)
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Postby Tim Dominick on Mon Apr 24, 2006 6:36 pm

From what I gleened in Charlotte, their direct trade concept is absolutely rooted in quality, fairness, and integrity. Given the people involved in auditing their claims I would expect nothing less.

There are several roasters who are taking a more direct approach to transparent trade. Using third party audits of their transactions it is possible to show the world that their coffee is purchased in an equitable way without the B.S. that comes with FT. We'll surely see more of this as discontent with transfair mounts.
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Postby Peter G on Mon Apr 24, 2006 6:47 pm

On fair trade and quality:

There is a lot of low quality FT certified coffee around. There is a lot of low quality coffee around, period. If I was cornered, I would feel pretty comfortable saying that, on average, FT certified coffee is somewhat better than average non-FT coffee. Lots of detailed reasons for this, especially the fact that FT tends to encourage stable economic relationships and the fact that the huge factory farms in Brazil and robusta plantations are not eligible for FT certification.

There is absolutely no structural reason why fair trade coffee cannot be the greatest around. As Tim correctly said, this is already achieved in many countries. The key process for achieving great coffee is good agronomic and processing practices, combined with lot separation and rigorous cupping by a lover of coffee. This can happen within the FT system or outside of it, but it requires a set of tools that are unrelated to any economic model or certification.

The old saw about base prices not incentivizing quality is proving untrue. The greatest coffees, FT or not, are regularly fetching prices over double the FT base price. This provides plenty of incentive for those who are inclined to pursue quality. For those that aren't and are getting the FT base price, well they would be getting the C price otherwise and it's hard to say the world isn't better with the co-ops getting at least 1.26.

I guess what I am saying is: drawing any connection between Fair Trade and great quality is like drawing a connection between a great steak and tap dancing. Both can be wonderful, but there is no cause and effect between the two. Saying "FT coffees tend to be poor" is just as false as saying "FT coffees tend to be great".

The exclusion of non co-op farms is problematic, but I have the feeling (but no specific news) that this will change within the next few years. It will not change, however, without spectacular resistance from small farmer advocacy groups, most particularly those with leftist ideals.

I also believe that the best roasters, such as Intelligentsia and others, will increasingly splinter away from FT certification. It just doesn't fit with the ideals of a truly craft- and quality-oriented roaster, and it's getting worse as more and more commercial roasters sign up with Trans Fair.

Just some late night rambling on a subject which is interesting to me.

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Postby Ric Rhinehart on Mon Apr 24, 2006 8:41 pm

We had another two hour conversation about FT with a local student activist today. All the usual points from our side regarding a failure to provide quality incentives, the failure to include ressonible family farmers, etc. Also high on our list is a sense that there is a pervasive bending of the truth on the part of TransFair. A brochure published last year had a picture of coffee and a tag line about FT being good for small holders and good for family farmers...a reference I believe to some other plantation crops that have allowed for FT certs for larger farms. Nothing patently untrue, but skirting the edge of deception. I am happy to say that we have no incoming coffee on our books at below FT prices, and in reality almost all of our coffee is FLO certified, although we do not currently license or use the TF mark.

To some of the earlier points about quality, we have some FT coffees of qualities that I would match with anyone, anytime. FTO Ethiopians, both washed Yrgs and Nat Sidamos, FTO Nic Las Brumas, FT Rwanda Karaba, to name a few. The FLO cert set a bench mark in pricing for small holders and coops to strive for, and buyers set new benchmarks for quality. I for one am amazed at the enormous strides in quality that small farmers in disparate locales have made in a relatively short period of time. Then again, many of them were literally fighting for their lives...powerful incentive indeed.

Finally, as we all go out and fight the quality battle, we have an obligation to be aware of the real impacts of our buying habits, pricing decisions and relationship building. Blithely seeking quality of the cup, with no consideration to other factors, is not a sustainable business practice. I am in no way suggesting that quality is not a critical element to building a long term, sustainable and equitable supply chain, but I am sure it is not the only such element.

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Postby trish on Mon Apr 24, 2006 9:10 pm

I spent a lot of my time at the conference trying to get some feedback on the FT mark. Nothing yet has compelled me to pay out for the seal, and I consider myself relatively educated. I have had the transfair application sitting on my desk for months. My company has never been a licensee. Getting it done has been on my shortlist....like I said, for months. Only ones really pushing for it are the sales team, but only because it sort of shuts people up. Now even the sales guys have stopped pestering me.

Like Ric, we buy a bunch of stellar coffees that are also FT.
Okay now read his last paragraph again because it is so perfect.
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Postby Steve on Tue Apr 25, 2006 2:07 am

I think its a real easy box to tick Trish to "shut up the customer". Were ethical look we are fair trade certified, doesn't really say a lot about a company apart from we jumped through a hoop.

Its much harder to have a built in ethical policy where you have to tell the customer why you do what you do, but the rewards are far greater for everyone along the chain (which I understand from the post your leaning towards). Educating the customer that a quality model rewards the farmer on a greater level (sorry I know I'm telling everyone how to suck an eggs must stop this).

With my limited knowledge of the good thinks Zoka are doing (thanks to the global village) it seems like an unnecessary, as you have the ethical basis on the quality model that far exceeds FT. It sends me cold when people champion that there company does "fair trade".

Thank you choir my preaching is now finished :)
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Postby Tim Dominick on Tue Apr 25, 2006 9:59 am

As someone who has defended transfair in the past, I cannot offer up much of a defense these days, nor can I give reasons to join (beyond shutting up student-activists)

In an effort to create a marketing force, transfair used and alienated alot of small roasters. We signed on in the early days as bright eyed, fresh from college activist-types who bought into the message.

As often is the case, money and power create a swift current which soon undermine original intent. In a sense, TF is self-serving and very much interested in seeing their brand image plastered on as many bags of coffee, tea, bannanas, mangos, sugar, agave, you name it, as possible. Each time that little guy appears on a bag, they make a nickle or a dime.

If you singed up for transfair today Trish, you would be paying based on how much fair trade green you buy. You can get a deal if you use particular percentages, weights, etc but it is based on how much you purchase NOT how much you ship as FT.

We pay under a different format: Roasted coffee sold with the transfair logo. How is it fair that I can blend a FT and non-ft coffee and pay no premium to TF when Zoka would have to pay a fee for a blend they cannot market as fair trade?

***or you can just call TF and strike your own deal...I hear you can shave pennies all over the place, if you're volume is big enough.
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Postby Mike Gregory on Tue Apr 25, 2006 1:02 pm

I'm interested to learn more about Intelligentsia's "Direct Trade" model, which they'll be unveiling along with their new Millennium Park location this friday...

http://www.intelligentsiacoffee.com/ret ... 04-12-2006
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Postby Mike Gregory on Tue Apr 25, 2006 1:09 pm

Sorry! I totally missed d.l.downsouth's post :oops:
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Postby Brent on Tue Apr 25, 2006 2:16 pm

We aren't FT licensed, and are reluctant to do so for many of the reasons listed above.

We buy coffee that is FT, and pay a premium for doing so, happily - so far the quality has been fine.

My objection to the license fee, is that it is just that, and is on top of the premium we have already paid. And there is nothing so far that compells me to pay it.

We are waiting for more info from the local license admins, but certainly nothing we have seen thus far in NZ has made me want to stump up the $$$.

It has nothing to do with the $$$ and everything to do with what is done wit the $$$ - I am reluctant to simply pay for someone to sit in an office and send me stickers to put on my coffee bags - I want to see them promoting the issues that concern me effectively, which they have not to my mind done yet.

That and I can easily print the logo on my labelling myself with my whizzy labeller...

end rant.
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