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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.

Comments

I'm trying to be charitable toward "Fair Trade" and other similar things, but I can't shake the feeling that whatever temporal good is being done by the practice, a very high price is being paid for it in vanity and self-righteousness.
The cultural implications of this stuff are the most interesting (and sometimes concerning) for me. Taken one by one, I'm very much in favor of being intentional and just as stewards of money and the environment. The cumulative effect, however, sometimes leans in the direction of a "new morality," and I'm probably not on board with swallowing that whole.
well, i'm not a coffee drinker as you may know so maybe i should just shut my yap on this issue. but i'd want to listen to this company a bit more if a) they weren't trying so hard to pat themselves on the back; b) they didn't use phrases like "boutique coffee" and "level of transparency" and c) they didn't obviously think they're smarter than everyone else by naming themselves "intelligentsia coffee".

that said, i'm sure they have a good point. i agree it's pretty lame to make someone pay just to use a logo. seems like if you use fair trade coffee you should be allowed to let your customers know for free. but i guess that's what the internet's for!
At least they're not "Illuminati Coffee."

But I'm sure their message is targeted to their market—people who are going to cough up the cash for high-end coffee might love the "educated" lingo and want to feel like they're doing some good with their money. They're definitely selling a lifestyle as well as coffee (and I'm not above buying both).

Mmmm, coffee…
The two coffee shops I go to most often -- Trabant in Seattle and Specialty's in Bellevue -- both use Intelligentsia. There's a lot of really cool stuff that they do, and I'm happy to support them.
It's fascinating how many choices are part of how we spend/invest our dollars, and even how those choices are now part of what's being marketed to us. We who have so much have a lot of responsibility, and I like when companies can articulate what they're up to and why.
me too.
Agreed; it's especially good for the things that we often assume are necessary but are actually luxury items. (Coffee's a really good example of this.)

I often joke that the IT industry I work in exists mainly to support the baristas and bartenders of the world.

Bobo

That's all. Just Bobo.

Re: Bobo

Totally.
I try to support fair trade certified products, but don't purchase them exclusively. I do know it's not the only way to look after farmers.
Working at Starbucks, I've been privy to a lot of information about how Starbucks purchases their coffee. I've learned that they do, in fact, pay more on average than most major coffee purchasers by choice, as well as being North America's largest purchaser of fair trade certified coffee. They are also involved locally in the farming communities. (They have a clinic in Guatemala, and a resource training center of sorts for farmers in Costa Rica, I believe.) They just don't herald it too loudly.
Honestly, I think a number of companies try to do more good than they're ever credited for by the public. Certainly there's lots of greed out there, but "corporations are bad" is often a sloppy substitute for real thought.
Off topic (though this one is magnificent): Would you tell me again the name of the skin condition you have? I can't find the post where you originally told me.
It's dermatitis herpetiformis.
i just googled it again - i don't think it's the same thing. i don't know! i wish i had insurance. :)

today, i noticed that in addition to having it on his elbows, it's on the backs of his wrists. the good news is, some olive oil seems to make it go away...i just have to use it everyday.
Mine never looked as bad as the pictures on the internet—it's a rotten diagnostic tool.