August 15th, 2007

Smug

Another easy answer debunked?

Think Fair Trade is the uniform "best practice" for coffee buying? At least one coffee company invites us to think again (or perhaps for the first time):
We do not, however, buy commodity coffee; we buy boutique coffees of the very highest quality, and we travel and work very closely with the growers themselves. We spend days at a time with them, we sleep in their houses, and we are engaged in a continuous dialogue with them about how to grow together and benefit. Experience has shown us that we can achieve better results through our own efforts and attain a higher level of transparency than we could by simply purchasing Fair Trade coffees. Lastly, it is important to us that the producer gets maximum return for their work. Many of our coffees come from cooperatives that are Fair Trade certified, and we could easily make them Fair Trade coffees. If we did so, Intelligentsia would pay a commission to Fair Trade for the use of the Fair Trade logo. Our belief is that the money makes a bigger and more positive difference when it goes directly into the hand of the producer. Instead of buying the right to use a label we just give the money to the grower. [emphasis mine]

As with the article I mentioned last week, this suggests there is no magical "right" way, no single set of practices or endorsements that makes something "green" and/or "good" (which are, incidentally, not the same thing, although I believe there's significant overlap). The inconvenient truth is that there are a lot of inconvenient truths colliding with each other in tension or contradiction on a regular basis. It's understandable to want labels in order to navigate the decisions we're faced with, but labels make poor moral systems in their own right, often lacking nuance and sometimes being downright wrong.

P.S. I don't have a problem with TransFair or anyone else making money with a good idea (I like money, and I like people to have money), especially one that also promotes social justice. I just think it's lazy thinking to assume their label is a "one size fits all" solution.