Fair Trade Coffee & Big Business

I was going to write about Thanksgiving, but what is left to say about birds and Pilgrims?  All I have is: Up early and to the bakery for croissants and bagels, followed by baking corn bread and stuffing two 12 pounders.  The stuffing: Three red onions, two celery stalks, about a pound of chopped chestnuts, arborio rice, chicken stock, six eggs, two sticks of butter, the aforementioned corn bread, chopped parsley, and plenty of salt  and pepper.  Birds stuffed and into oven preheated to 350, all done in 20 minutes, exclusive of the time it took to bake the corn bread.  What, for Pete’s sake, is the fuss?

Fine, later I’ll enlist the Millennials to trim the baby Brussel sprouts, pop the cranberries into a pot of boiling water, and peel the candy and golden beets.

But speaking more globally–and who doesn’t enjoy GG (Goin’ Global)–is a story on the front page of today’s NY Times on the Fair Trade USA movement.  Principally, this is about coffee, though it does cover other agricultural products.  OK, here is what’s what: When Fair Trade first got started, it bought stuff from smaller farms in an effort to help under-capitalized or poor farmers compete in a market where they were outmanned in marketing, setting prices, negotiation, etc.  The idea was to establish a level playing field, and to get the smaller outfits a fair price for their coffee.  (It’s kind of sort of like socialism, but if you won’t tell, I won’t either.  Loose lips sink ships.)

However, Fair Trade USA, according to the lively and thoughtful piece by William Neuman, “…angered critics by saying it would cut its ties at year’s end with the main international fair trade group and make far-reaching changes in the sorts of products that get its seal of approval.”

More specifically: “The changes include giving the fair trade designation to coffee from large plantations, which were previously barred in favor of small farms. The group is also proposing to place its seal on products with as little as 10 percent fair trade ingredients, compared with a minimum of 20 percent required in other countries.”

So what this means: The Fair Trade USA designation will lose its previous significance.  When you buy Fair Trade after the changes, you might be buying a watered down product from an agribusiness.

The reasoning behind the decision, according to the article, is this: “The group says the changes will benefit more poor farmers and farm workers around the world and make it easier for large corporations to sell fair trade products. Sales of fair trade goods in 2010 were $1.3 billion in the United States and $5.8 billion globally. Fair Trade USA said it hoped to double sales in the United States by 2015.”

I would put it a different way: The group figures that consumers will see the Fair Trade label and buy the product.  Agribusinesses and Fair Trade will double down, and join the 1%.

Here is the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/24/business/as-fair-trade-movement-grows-a-dispute-over-its-direction.html?_r=1&ref=business.

Look, so many of the goody two shoes companies are owned by huge firms.  Honest Tea, noted in the article?  Owned by Coca Cola.  Things Go Better with Tea, right?

But when you slap a name on a something that does not describe that thing, broader problems arise.

Turkeys, I’m telling you.

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