My Fair Latte

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At the tail end of "Fairtrade Fortnight"–The Fairtrade Foundation's annual push to spread the fair trade gospel in the U.K.–The Globalisation Institute's Alex Singleton makes the moral case for caffeinating without price floors.

My take on fair vs. unfair coffee is here.

The Conservative Party boldly commits to "fairly traded snacks" here.

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  1. Kerry,

    Would you care to respond to the debunking of your last post on the subject by regular poster “science?”

    In which he links to proof that the assertions of your source about TransFair’s rules were inaccurate?

    https://www.reason.com/hitandrun/2006/03/new_at_reason_1051.shtml#comments

    Scroll to the bottom.

  2. Could the low price of coffee reflect a surplus of coffee production? Maybe some coffee growers should try growing something else? I’m not against the fair trade movement, but I don’t think it’s the best solution.

  3. Joe,

    I’m not sure what Science’s source was, but here is Equal Exchange with a useful explanation of the certification program and defense of the co-op system:

    http://www.equalexchange.com/worker-owned

  4. Perhaps science can tell us where this is from:

    “There are two sets of generic producer standards, one for small farmers and one for workers on plantations and in factories. The first set applies to smallholders organised in cooperatives or other organisations with a democratic, participative structure. The second set applies to organised workers, whose employers pay decent wages, guarantee the right to join trade unions and provide good housing where relevant. On plantations and in factories, minimum health and safety as well as environmental standards must be complied with, and no child or forced labour may occur.”

    “FLO Fairtrade Standards are different when you are a small producer organisation, organised in a demo-cratic way, such as a cooperative or association, or when you structurally depend on hired labour, as is the case in plantations and factories.”

  5. Fair Trade sounds, in inspiration, much like the failed Owenite fantasy.

  6. Myself not a coffee house person, I wonder if Caribou Coffee has fair trade coffee. They operate under Sharia principles, believe it or not. Won’t find any jello there, that’s for sure.

  7. I have to say, it never ceases to amaze me how often anti-capitalists try to re-package old, failed ideas. Be it mercantilism (proctectionism), the cooperative movement (mutualism or fair trade), etc.

  8. Not that I ultimately have any problem with co-ops when they are entered into voluntarily.

  9. RPG is back!

  10. Nothing at all to do with Fair Trade coffee, but has everybody noticed the replacement for CHG at the top of the page?

    I like St. Pat’s day, now all I need is Fair Trade beer, preferably something along the lines of a stout.

  11. This hot guy bought me a Starbucks this morning. Heehee.

  12. On the subject of cooperatives, in many coutries it makes good economic sense to join one. Belonging to a cooperative means that

    a) you can afford to mechanize. You could not, with what you earn buy a tractor, but you and your neighbors can all pool their money and buy one, and then work a system to where and when it is used.

    b) Same thing if you want to buy a stud to imporve your flock. After all, the lucky stud would get to impregnate all the females around.

    c) You can buy seed, fertilizers, and pesticides in bulk, thus getting a better price.

    d) The coop has legal existence and can apply for a loan, which you may not be able to do.

    e) it provides a way to consolidate marginal land holdings into an economic efficient unit.

    These are the main reasons why people join coops, the rest is “so much mouth music”

  13. Zero is right.

    The point I was making was that the fair trade movement does not restrict producers in the ways implied by the original article. I do believe many people who choose fair trade products are aware of both the problems and the advantages of the system. I would think that a market-based solution would please the libertarian minded. Privatized, voluntary labor policy…how much more libertarian can you get?

  14. It is worth noting that you can get to the exact information from the link that Kerry provides.

  15. Reason Pillow Girl: I hope the guy is really hot for your sake.

    Did he get you a Starbucks shop? Or just a cup of coffee? Because if its a cup of coffee, I wonder about his tastebuds.

    Unfortunatel Starbucks roasts the beans too long until they burn. Why do you think they make all those lattes with all that caramel, and white chocolate, and the rest of it? To hide the taste of burnt coffee.

    I wish I could treat you to a cup of The Cheese Shop where I live. It is basically self-service, on the honor system. You drop a buck on the counter, and if you get more, you are trusted to get back the correct chante, then you pick up a papera cup, and then you get to choose whether to get Cebels Kalossi, or coffe from Papua, New Guinea, or Sulawesi, or Mexican, or from Honduras, Guatemala, Sumatra, etc. etc. You add the sugar and/or milk then you can either sit on the coffebean bags or go outside and sit at the tables and enjoy.

  16. She’s no longer the Reason Pillow Girl, she’s the Reason Mag Girl.

    But where’s Carpet Humping Guy?

  17. And on an off-topic note.

    Here’s something the H&R crowd should like

    http://www.prosper.com/public/welcome/how_it_works.aspx

  18. “This hot guy bought me a Starbucks this morning. Heehee.”

    Actually Pillow Girl, today was the big Starbucks coffee give-away. Assuming that he got it for you between 10am and noon from a company store, it was on Starbucks.

    Men are pigs…

  19. Adriana,
    “Unfortunatel Starbucks roasts the beans too long until they burn.”

    The eye of the beholder. What Starbucks does is a dark roast, not a burn. In Seattle (company HQ), there are 2 other big players: Seattle’s Best (which Starbucks recently purchased) does a medium roast, and Tully’s does a light roast. Kind of like Rare, Medium, and Well Done.

    As for the Caramel and White Chocolate, most other coffee houses offer these as well, and I’m pretty sure that people use them.

    Maybe it isn’t that Starbucks coffe is burnt, maybe it’s just that coffee in general tastes aweful.

  20. From the way that I read these Equal Exchange and Fair Trade links, Kerry’s article is incorrect. Equal Exchange is a co-op and chooses to work with other co-ops that have been certified as fair traders, but Fair Trade will certify both co-ops and plantations. Am I reading this correctly?

  21. Coffee, when it is done right, tastes good. In the Cheese Shoppe you get none of the additives, only sugar and milk, if you want them, and there are people in town who live for it.

    But if you drank nothing but bad coffee, you’ll think that all coffee tastes the same, awful – and then you miss one of the great pleasures in life.

  22. Highnumber

    Yes. You are. Kerry didn’t take the time to learn much about the fair trade organizations before writing his piece. He just went with the position that fit into his world view the easiest.

  23. Last time I checked, Kerry is a she.

    Maybe “checked” isn’t the correct verb, but still…

  24. joe,

    I don’t see how the Harvard link refuted Kerry’s fair trade vis a vis coffee piece. It makes the mistake of considering non-economic consumer preference as “not rational” and then using that as a basis to dismiss the whole neo-classical paradigm. Also, its main example isn’t even germane to a market/consumer situation.

  25. Fucking Starbucks! Will they now destroy Seattle’s Best because its coffee is so much better than their own? What are they now, Microsoft?

  26. Thansk Real Bill for reminding us that what Starbucks sells is not great coffee (great coffee needs no additives to taste great). If you are ever in Penn State let me invite you to The Cheese Shoppe.

    By the way, The Cheese Shoppe has a couple of Fairly Traded coffee in its selection, and it does not do so out of the goodness of its heart. The fact is that a Fairly Traded coffee can be grown to specifications, thus ensuring consistent quality (coffee traders are known for mixing beans from different sources), and are attractive to the more discerning drinkers.

  27. Rick Barton,

    I was referring to the FairTrade sites, quoted by science and linked to by zero. On those pages, you can find the standards for family farms, corporate farms, and operations that use hired labor – the setups that FairTrade allegedly refuses to sanction, according to Kerry’s article.

  28. On the Starbucks roast: OK, maybe it’s not actually “burnt”. But it is very dark, and there are a few reasons why they do it this way. It reduces some of the character of the beans, meaning you can buy cheaper beans, and for some reason people assume a darker roast is “more sophisticated” or some horse-hockey like that. But if you are really interested in quality and individual character, you wouldn’t roast that dark. I don’t, however, think that that’s why they offer all these mocha-vanilla-caramel things: they do that because American tastes run to the very sweet. Most people don’t like plain black coffee, especially not at the proper strength.

    The Real Bill: Part of the problem has always been that there’s a substantial lag time between when you plant a coffee plant and when it starts producing. People tend to plant when the price is high, which usually means that it starts producing just in time for them to hit a low point in the price cycle… And, let’s face it, despite being a “specialty” commodity and not a purely fungible one, coffee is still just another agricultural commodity, and not one that’s that hard to grow. Nobody expects soybeans to sell for $10/lb., do they?

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