Saturday, March 11, 2006

Fair Trade does not incentivize quality

Gregorio Martinez grows coffee on 30 hectares of land in Lepaera, Honduras, where he lives with his wife and four children. In 1998 Hurricane Mitch destroyed his crop, leaving him deep in debt; by 2004 he was set to lose his farm to foreclosure for lack of $800. That same year, he sent a bag of beans to the Princess Hotel in San Pedro Sula, where a U.S. nonprofit was hosting a contest known as Cup of Excellence. Martinez took top honors, attracted attention from buyers, and auctioned off his crop for $19,500. In his acceptance speech, he expressed relief that he would be able to pass his farm on to his family rather than the bank.
Gregorio Martinez cannot get Fair Trade certification - he isn't part of a co-operative. Not only that, if the quality of his work and beans remains high, and the demand for them justifies hiring even one worker, then he will fail on two counts. Fair Trade farmers cannot have hired labour, no matter how good the wages or conditions are.

An interesting article by Kerry Howley on the marketing success of the Fair trade movement, and on how it may well be failing just the people it set out to help. In passing, he also shows how the success of Starbucks with their fetishisation of coffee might be doing far more good than you think.

I like the quote about the Starbucks lingo.
“It’s amazing to me that these terms have become part of the language,” Starbucks’ Dawn Pinaud confesses in Mark Pendergrast’s coffee history Uncommon Grounds. “A few of us sat in a conference room and just made them up.”

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