Worth the talk

02/04/2008 - 4:44 PM
I read a really great post from greenlagirl on the return of Dean’s Beans to the Fair Trade Certified roster. Dean Cycon is a well known pioneer in Fair Trade, and has a book out on his experiences in the coffee world. It was gratifying to see the farming partners he works with support his return to Fair Trade Certified. Dean has never wavered from the overall concept of Fair Trade, even while disagreeing on some of the details of implementation. How could there be disagreement on something so fundamentally positive? Fair Trade is a fantastic and simple concept but – believe me – it has endless complications in execution, given the progressive goals, broad scope and variety of participants. I was on a panel with Dahinda Meda – the founder of Café Mam - at the Ecological Farming Association conference last week, who pointed out areas where he hopes to see us improve, based on his frequent travel to Chiapas and relationships with farmers in the region. Like Dean, Dahinda is no lightweight. Café Mam has been a Fair Trade advocate for 20 years. Dahinda was also one of the key players in the legal battle to get DDT banned in the United States. He received a standing ovation at EcoFarm, and then proceeded to express some concerns over our floor prices and inspection processes. At times like these, I confess to occasional envy over the simpler/lower bar certification schemes which focus only on farm management or minimal social indicators (such as local country minimum wages). Reflecting further, however, I realize that the progressive nature of Fair Trade – trying to improve both the planet and the opportunities for farmers – is bound to create some occasional discord. Since we all share similar goals, this dialog is both positive and a part of the process. As I have said before, the key for us has always been the voice of the growers. Paul Rice recently returned from a trip to Indonesia and Thailand, where rice and coffee farmers expressed both enthusiasm for Fair Trade, and the desire to use it as a mechanism to improve their communities. As long as traders play by the rules, that enthusiasm generally applies to getting product into Wal Mart and Whole Foods as much as it does a coffee shop in Eugene. Not all of our licensees (or advocates) in the system are as enthusiastic about this. On almost any issue relating to Fair Trade – from labeling to trademarks to hired labor standards – there are a variety of opinions about what would be the perfect outcome. This ongoing dialog is what makes Fair Trade so powerful. Even Dean – in his book – took the time to acknowledge and thank Starbucks and Green Mountain (both large publicly traded coffee roasters) for their willingness to engage in discussion about how we can all have the most positive impact.
02/04/2008 - 4:44 PM
02/04/2008 - 4:44 PM