Fair trade coffee serves up benefits for Guatemalan farmers

While I don’t have much time to blog lately, given then theme of this blog I couldn’t not put a link to this article. This is a research project I would love to have done in Honduras….

Odyssey | Fresh-Brewed Research.





For any NZ or Australian readers: check out the events in your area and support them!



Chocolate’s Dark Secret

April 13, 2009

A couple of Easters ago a posted on about chocolate slavery.  This Easter I have been very happy to see that the issue is gaining wider attention.  Today the Sunday Star Times ran a feature story on chocolate slavery and fair trade chocolate- on the frount of the business section!  Not only was this attention by the conventional media encouraging, the article indicated that Cadbury (argueably the most recognisable chocolate brand in this part of the world) is moving towards using fair trade cocoa for a significant portion of it’s products.

And, finally, it seems New Zealanders are getting the message.  

Though New Zealanders lack the consumer awareness of the Brits, 42% of us say we would buy more fair trade if more were available, and the recognition of the Fair Trade label has jumped from just 2% in 2006 to 36% at the end of last year, though Fair Trade said retail sales were a mere $14.6m in the past year.

I’ve long been frustrated at the lack of interest in, and availability of fair trade products in New Zealand, compared to what I hear of other parts of the world.  But things are changing.  I guess, as with a lot of things, New Zealand just lags a little behind.  But the signs are encouraging this Easter.  


(Also, the features section ran an article about the health benefits of chocolate.  I really did enoy reading the paper today!)

I have been wanting to watch the movie Black Gold for a while so was very happy to see it on sale at the cultural festival recently.  I finally watched it last week, and was glad I did.  It is the story of Ethiopian coffee, and in particular the journey of Tadesse Meskela, a man on a mission to get better prices for his coffee farmers cooperative.  The movie deliberately and effectively contrasts the poverty of the coffee producers with the luxury of coffee consumers, which makes for very throught provoking viewing.

This is an excellent movie with an important message. But I do have a couple of little complaints.  Firstly I think the film would have benefited from a little more explanation of how the coffee markets and price setting worked (although it probably was made with a larger target population in mind then Development Studies post-grads, who may not be quite so interested in the exact mechanisms of imperialistic trade!). It did however convey well the injustice of a system that allows muti million dollar corporations and farmers with starving families to coexist.

The other little niggle is related to the niggle I have about fair trade in general. As can be esily guessed from this blog, I am already a convert to fair trade, however I don’t think it is the panacea for world trade problems and poverty that it is often promoted as. The problems are large and structural, and deeply unjust.  They are also political.  Trade favours the rich, the consumers, and those with power.  And (as the movie does show in parts), those who benefit are not in any rush to change.

At the risk of displaying my socialist tendancies, here’s a good quote from A Very Public Sociologist:

As long as production is subordinate to the market, as long as workers are not paid the full value of their labour power, superexploitation and one-sided development/underdevelopment will remain the lot of Africa. And no amount of consumption with a conscience will change that.

Unfortunately I don’t have any answers. I do strongly believe that fair trade while it won’t save the world it is better than doing nothing.  At the very least it indicates some thought has gone into the purchase (mindless consumption is perhaps a topic for another day!), and one producing cooperative/ farmer/ community may be a little better off.

Despite all that I really liked the movie, and highly recommend it (and I’ll be inflicting it on my family and friends too!).  And what impacted me the most?  I had never realised how much of a hands-on process coffee production is.  Berries are hand-picked, and hand sorted so that every bean has been touched by the hands of African (or Latin American or Melanesian…) workers.  Literally black gold.  Since watching the movie I have been even more careful when grinding and making my coffee in the morning, handling the beans is a tangible link back up the supply chain to some very real people.

Your Coffee Dollar

July 24, 2007


It has been a while since I have written a post about coffee, and given that it is the theme I chose for this blog I have been thinking lately that it is about time I did. Luckily someone forwarded me a link to Your Coffee Dollar. In internet terms it is very old (2003) but it shows quite clearly where your the money you spend on your daily latte actually ends up.

Green LA girl has also recently posted her 6-Step Program for the Caffeine Addicted, a great place to start if you are interested in the issue but not sure exactly what that means for your coffee habit. I have linked to her Coffee Crisis Series before and still highly recommend it.

Step 5 of the 6-Step Program is to check out your local indie coffee shop. According to CoffeeGeek it looks like New Zealand and Australia are on track with this one. I knew we liked our espresso here but was fascinated to read that less than 6% of small cafes in Australia and New Zealand are franchised, as compared to over 40% in North America.

What is unique is that, outside Italy, the Australian and New Zealand café markets are the only other 100% espresso-based markets in the world! The US and other countries are dominated by filter style, or brewed, coffee. You cannot give filter coffee away in Australia or New Zealand. Furthermore, the Australian and New Zealand markets are unique in that the espresso based coffees are nearly always served with milk – approximately 98%, compared to 5% milk based coffees in Italy.

Yup, thats me. Latte queen. This also explains why I had enormous difficulty finding good coffee in the USA.

The ratio of espresso machines to population in Australia and New Zealand is approximately 850 people to 1 machine, only bested by Italy. In comparison, in the US, there are roughly 20,000 people per espresso machine.

I have a very tiny, very battered little espresso machine that I was given as a birthday gift by my family over 10 years ago. I’m not sure I could live without it. But I’m not alone in that, it’s really not unusual here to have a home espresso machine. And no cafe owner would dare open the doors without a decent espresso machine and trained barista.

While getting a good cup of coffee in New Zealand has been no problem for years, until recently it has been hard to get fair trade espresso. When I first arrived back in NZ six years ago all I could find were somewhat stale bags of beans from Trade Aid. But now I can get my daily fix of peoples coffee from a cafe around the corner from work, and can buy some pretty good beans at our local supermarket. Trade Aid still sells coffee (I haven’t tried it in years though so couldn’t tell you if it is any better now), but it also has a nationwide list of cafes, restaurants, supermarkets and organic stores who support fair trade. So there is no excuse!

Until we move to Latin America. I’m not sure what I’ll do then. Maybe I’ll have to grow my own.

Conflict Cocoa

June 12, 2007

Chocolate slavery and now conflict cocoa.  I really have to try to keep to fair trade chocolate.

Global Witness says that in the same way that “blood diamonds” have adversely affected the lives of people in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and oil has fuelled violence in the Niger Delta, so cocoa has done the same in Ivory Coast…

According to Global Witness, millions of dollars worth of cocoa revenue have funded both sides in the conflict, with the tacit acceptance of cocoa companies based in America and Europe.

Fairtrade on Ebay

June 4, 2007

This is great, it almost makes me wish I lived in the UK.  Will trademe ever do anything similar?

Fair Trade fortnight has just begun in Wellington.  Unfortunately I won’t be able to make it to many, if any of the events- my sister is getting married on Saturday and I seem to be caught up in the whole busy whirlwind that is wedding preparation.

In the middle of the storm I did however find time to read an article in a recent Listener magazine about the dilemma faced by the conscientious consumer- organic, fair trade or local?  According to the article this makes me a “solution seeker”, a group that wants to do the right thing with our purchasing power, and which apparently makes up 32% of New Zealand consumers.  This figure is encouraging, until you read further and find out that only 2% of coffee sold is fair trade (compare this to 30-35% in the UK).  I’m not quite sure what coffee the other 30% are buying.  Organic maybe?  Certainly not local!

It is however, a serious question, and one I have been doing some thinking about.  While some things are clear cut (buy local veges, fair trade coffee, organic bananas) others are not so.  What is prioritised usually comes down to a matter of personal conviction and experience… and the quality of the product.  As the Listener article concludes, “hopefully as business cottons on the the “solution seekers”… we won’t have to choose… we will start to see more products featuring a combination of all three.  Here’s hoping events like the Fair Trade fortnight will inspire more kiwis to think about what they are buying and add their consumer power to the movement.

Quite appropriately, my sister and her fiance are giving Green and Blacks chocolate as wedding favours.

Yesterday was the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Britain. While I have heard nothing in the media (perhaps because I am not in Britain!) and seen little online to mark this I think it is important and worth commenting on. Unfortunately common perception in the west seems to be that slavery is just a historical hiccup, which passed with the abolition of slavery in Europe and the Americas. However I have become increasingly aware of the role of slavery in our twenty-first century world, and it’s not pretty.

Last month I finally finished reading The Stolen Woman: Florence Baker’s Extraordinary Life from the Harem to the Heart of Africa. Traveling up the Nile in 1861 Florence and Samuel Baker were confronted with the horrors of the slave trade of the time. The history is terrible, but I thought that was all it was, history. Coincidentally however I recently started reading Baroness Cox: A Voice for the Voiceless, and realised it is still very real. Baroness Cox is a British peer and a leading advocate of for human rights in forgotten corners of the world. One of the issues she is very interested in is contemporary slavery, especially in Sudan, and she claims to have redeemed 2,281 slaves on eight visits there.

According to the Anti-Slavery website:

Millions of men, women and children around the world are forced to lead lives as slaves. Although this exploitation is often not called slavery, the conditions are the same. People are sold like objects, forced to work for little or no pay and are at the mercy of their ’employers’.

Slavery exists today despite the fact that it is banned in most of the countries where it is practiced. It is also prohibited by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1956 UN Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery. Women from eastern Europe are bonded into prostitution, children are trafficked between West African countries and men are forced to work as slaves on Brazilian agricultural estates. Contemporary slavery takes various forms and affects people of all ages, sex and race.

Common characteristics distinguish slavery from other human rights violations. A slave is:

* forced to work — through mental or physical threat;

* owned or controlled by an ’employer’, usually through mental or physical abuse or threatened abuse;

* dehumanised, treated as a commodity or bought and sold as ‘property’;

* physically constrained or has restrictions placed on his/her freedom of movement.

It seems to me that coming up to easter is an appropriate time to highlight the issue of slavery, as chocolate is a clear case study of the problem. Stop the Traffik has a current campaigning highlighting the use of children to harvest the cocoa beans on farms in Cote D’Ivoire. Nearly half the world’s chocolate is made from cocoa grown in the Cote D’Ivoire, and the U.S. State Department Human Rights Report on the Ivory Coast for 2003 estimates that approximately 109,000 child laborers worked in hazardous conditions on cocoa farms in what has been described as the worst form of child labour. That means that the chance is high that the cocoa for your easter egg was produced by enforced child labour, by modern day child slaves.

Luckily chocolate is one commodity that is easily obtained from fair trade sources (even here in NZ!). I would like to think that combined pressure from modern day abolitionists such as Anti-Slavery, Stop the Traffik and Not for Sale, and the market demand for ethical and fairly traded products could bring an end to the modern day slave trade, much as public pressure led to the end of the Transatlantic trade 200 years ago. Personally, I think giving up my favourite chocolate marshmallow eggs for easter is a small price to pay.

Freedom and Fairness

February 26, 2007

Here’s a fun experiment anyone can do. Find someone who espouses neoliberalism (they’ll call it “free-market economics”). Ask them why coffee farmers are poor.

Power is the ability to exercise freedom, and freedom is the ability to exercise power. The worker and grower are not directly (i.e., at gunpoint) forced to accept the transactions on whatever meager terms they are offered, but the other choice is suffering and possible starvation. This is the freedom neoliberalism offers them, which is, of course, no freedom at a

You might expect me to say that corporations hold the power. They do not. If they did, fair trade would be one more fad on the conveyor belt of fashion, and corporations would not have to colonize nearly every flat surface for advertising. Clever as some ads are, they only serve to obscure who really holds the power.

You hold the power.

That’s why they work so hard to get your attention. That’s why they use words and pictures that bypass your judgment and appeal to your emotions. That’s why they work so hard at cultivating their brand image.

They can’t take your power from you, because a seller needs buyers. They can, however, make you forget you have it, and make you feel fortunate to be buying from them. This is backwards, of course, because your freedom is not a matter of fortune, it’s an inalienable right.

When you look at commerce this way, the picture shifts. You can exercise your power deliberately. You can use your freedom to uphold the freedom of others.

This is the highest understanding of fair trade.

Quotes from a brilliant article from Steve Herrick, editor of Just Things, reprinted by Tradeaid NZ.