History of the Global Exchange Coffee Campaign
Coffee Production and Labor
What is the economic situation of small farmers in the coffee industry?
A: Coffee is produced both on large plantations and by small farmers. Typically, Fair Trade farmers cultivate less than 3 hectares of coffee and harvest 1,000-3,000 pounds of unroasted coffee a year. Small farmers are perhaps more aptly defined by those farmers who rely principally on their own families' labor. This makes Fair Trade potentially representative of an estimated 75% of all coffee farmers. Many coffee farmers receive prices for their harvest that can be less than the costs of production, forcing them into a cycle of poverty and debt. They are often forced to sell to middlemen who pay them half the market price, generally between $.30-.50 per pound. Family farmers usually bring in a cash income of $500-$1,000 a year for their coffee.
What are the labor problems and working conditions in the coffee industry?
A: Conditions for coffee workers on large plantations varies widely, but most are paid the equivalent to sweatshop wages and toil under abysmal working conditions. In Guatemala for example, coffee pickers have to pick a 100-pound quota in order to get the minimum wage of less than $3/day. A recent study of plantations in Guatemala showed that over half of all coffee pickers don't receive the minimum wage, in violation of Guatemalan labor laws. Workers interviewed in the study were also subject to forced overtime without compensation, and most often did not receive their legally-mandated employee benefits. The total average income reported was Quetzales 1006 ($127.37/month). According to 1998 data published by Guatemala's National Institute of Statistics, the cost of the Basic Food Basket for a family of five was 1353.86 Quetzales per month ($171.37 @7.90 exchange rate). The Basket of Goods and Services (including food, education, healthcare, clothing, and transportation) was Q2470.55 ($312.72).
Because of this situation, many coffee workers bring their children to help them in the fields in order to pick the daily quota. These child workers are not officially employed and therefore not subject to labor protections. While children in most rural families work at an earlier age than urban children, a February 4 investigative report by ABC-affiliate KGO television in San Francisco revealed children as young as 6 or 8 years old at work in the fields. We believe that the best way to prevent child labor in the fields is to pay workers a living wage.
Working conditions on these plantations are harsh; as migrant farmworkers, many workers sleep in temporary shelters with rows of bunk beds. Many times they cook, wash and bathe from the same water source. The study of coffee plantations in Guatemala revealed that only 13% of coffee workers have completed their primary education. Most were not provided with legally-mandated adequate health care.
Most coffee workers, like many agricultural workers around the world, are not guaranteed their basic labor rights including the right to organize. The rural nature of farmwork makes them especially vulnerable to threats and coercion, as plantation owners can take advantage of their control over the workforce to keep them from organizing into unions to demand their rights. Many countries have adequate labor laws such as minimum wage, mandated health and safety requirements, and freedom to form a union, but these rights are usually not enforced.
Coffee and the Environment
What are some of the environmental issues, like pesticides and biodiversity, with coffee production?
A: Coffee farming originally developed in Africa as an understory crop beneath diverse shade trees that provided habitat for wildlife such as birds, butterflies, insects, and animals. Traditional farmers usually use sustainable agricultural techniques including composting coffee pulp, rotating crops, and not applying expensive chemicals and fertilizers. In addition, they usually cultivate food alongside cash crops, and intercrop other plants such as banana and nut trees which provide food security as well as additional sources of income.
In the 1970s and 80s, as part of the general shift to 'technified agriculture' during the so-called Green Revolution, the US Agency for International Development and other groups gave $80 million dollars for plantations in Central America to replace traditional shade grown farming techniques with 'sun cultivation' techniques in order to increase yields. This resulted in the destruction of vast forests and biodiversity of over 1.1 million hectares. 'Sun cultivated' coffee involves the cutting down of trees, monocropping, and the input of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. This type of industrial coffee farming leads to severe environmental problems, such as pesticide pollution, deforestation and the extinction of songbirds through habitat destruction. The Smithsonian Institute has identified industrial coffee production as one of the major threats to songbirds in the hemisphere due to deforestation - the birds no longer have a habitat in which to live. Soil and water sources continue to be severely degraded by many coffee farms, as coffee pulp is often dumped into streams. In addition to the harmful effects on the environment caused by the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides in coffee cultivation, workers are also at risk of drinking contaminated water and being poisoned by pesticides.
For these reasons, many bird, tree, and biodiversity conservationists have developed standards for promoting "shade-grown" or "bird-friendly" certified coffee - that is, coffee grown under a canopy of diverse trees that provide habitat to birds. The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, as well as Rainforest Alliance and the Seattle Audubon Society, all promote various labels of coffee that promote tree and bird conserving farming practices. In addition, many consumers are committed to purchasing organic coffee in order to promote sustainable farming techniques in poor countries.
For more information, see the Proceedings of the First Sustainable Coffee Congress by the Smithsonian Institute, which is a valuable resource on all issues of sustainability.
How does Fair Trade address environmental issues such as shade grown and organic?
A: About 85% of Fair Trade Certified coffee is shade grown and either passive or certified organic. Over half of the certified organic coffee is produced by Fair Trade cooperatives, but unless the coffee is Fair Trade Certified, there is no guarantee that the farmer received the benefit. Certified organic coffee in the Fair Trade market receive a $.15 premium per pound. Typically, small farmers have never had the money to finance cutting down of the trees or purchase large amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Small farmers have traditionally passed on sustainable farming techniques to their children. We believe that small farmers are the best stewards of the land, with the highest interest in living in and passing on land with healthy soil free from harmful pesticides to their children. Paying farmers a fair wage with incentives for ecological practices is the best way to encourage sustainable farming. Fair Trade helps guarantee that the benefits of organic farming techniques reach the farmer as well as the consumer and the environment.
We support the shade grown/bird-friendly as well as organic labeling movements as an important tool for consumers to make responsible choices about environmental conservation, and support the double- or triple-labeling of coffee. Most consumers who believe in supporting living wages for farmers also support sustainable farming practices that promote environmental conservation.
How does the Fair Trade certification process differ from organic and shade grown certifications?
A: Organic, Shade Grown, and Bird-Friendly certification labels have contributed important and valuable efforts to promoting sustainable agriculture techniques that benefit farmers and the environment. However, they do not carry the encompassing attributes of the Fair Trade Certification process. Organic coffee is certified according to strict legal criteria. There are a number of different certifying agencies (QAI, OCIA) that all certify according to the same California Organic Foods Act an in accordance with the standards of the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM). Shade coffee (bird-friendly) is currently certified by several groups (Rainforest Alliance, Seattle Audubon Society, Smithsonian Institute) but they work with slightly different criteria and do not have comprehensive monitoring procedures. Of these, the Smithsonian Institute has the strongest and most scientifically-based criteria and the best monitoring capability. Fair Trade Certification works with a ten year old comprehensive system of monitoring according to international standards.
Most (85%) Fair Trade Certified coffee is organic and shade grown, and most Shade and Organic coffee comes from farms that are organized as part of the Fair Trade network. Unfortunately, most organic or shade grown coffee is not Fair Trade; you still have to look for the Fair Trade Certified label to know if the farmer got a fair price.
Notably, unlike organic certification, all Fair Trade coffee monitoring and certification costs are paid by the roasters in the consuming countries, not the farmers.
In sum, we believe Fair Trade, Shade/Bird Friendly and Organic labeling initiatives to be symbiotic, because what is good for the workers is good for trees, birds, and our shared environment. Many consumers are looking for coffee that is multiply certified; labor and ecological standards overlap and are mutually beneficial.
The History of Fair Trade
How did the concept of Fair Trade originate?
A: The Fair Trade movement began in the late 1950s as alternative trade organizations (ATOs) emerged in Europe and the US to promote grassroots development through direct, equitable trade. These ATOs bought directly from Third World producers, eliminating the middlemen, and paid the producers a fair price while providing assistance in developing trading experience and market contacts. Such experiences helped producers raise their incomes while reducing their dependency on commercial middlemen. These first ATOs were primarily "Third World shops" which dealt mainly in handicrafts. Today, there are 3,000 of these shops in Europe organized in the Network of European World Shops, and about 100 in the US, organized in the Fair Trade Federation.
How was the concept of Fair Trade Certification developed?
A: The first Fair Trade certification initiative, called Max Havelaar, was proposed in Holland in 1988. It marked an important departure from the ATO model. The Fair Trade seal was offered to mainstream coffee roasters who were willing to trade even a fraction of their total volume on Fair Trade terms. By bringing in larger coffee roasters and pushing Fair Trade into mainstream supermarkets, this seal exposed many more consumers to the benefits of Fair Trade coffee and greatly increased the number of farmers who benefit from Fair Trade.
After the Fair Trade seal demonstrated itself as a viable marketing concept, several groups from other countries in Europe adopted the initiative, many under the name of TransFair. However, for most of their history, the Fair Trade labeling organizations remained a collection of independent, autonomous, nationally based initiatives that shared criteria and worked with the same farmers, but pursued common goals with different strategies. There are currently Fair Trade Certification seals in 17 different importing countries.
How did the Fairtrade Labeling Organizations international originate?
A: In 1997, Fair Trade labelers formed an international umbrella group called Fair Trade Labeling Organizations (FLO) International. The 17-member organization follows a set criteria which defines Fair Trade for each product certified under the Fair Trade system, including coffee, tea, cocoa, sugar, honey, bananas and orange juice. For each commodity, there is a shared International Fair Trade Registry of farmers who have undergone a formal application process and have been approved to sell to the Fair Trade market. Monitoring and certification systems are maintained by FLO, which has field monitors in each producer region or country who annually visit all of the producer coops. Each member of FLO contributes to international monitoring costs with its annual dues.
How did Fair Trade coffee in the US get started?
A: In 1986, Equal Exchange was established to import Nicaraguan coffee as an expression of solidarity with the people and revolution of Nicaragua, after the Reagan administration imposed an unfair trade embargo. Equal Exchange became the only ATO in the US to focus exclusively on Fair Trade coffee, trading according to the international standards before there was a monitoring agency in the US. In the fourteen years since its inception, Equal Exchange has built a small but important niche for Fair Trade coffee, earning the respect and recognition of the specialty coffee industry and helping many farmers to keep their land during the low ebbs in the world coffee market. Other companies such as Peace Coffee in Minneapolis, Zapatista Coffee in Denver, Café Mam in Oregon, Café Campesino in Georgia, and Dean's Beans in Massachusetts have also been active promoting fair prices for farmers over the last five years, as well as promoting education about the coffee industry and the need for Fair Trade.
How did Fair Trade Certification in the US get started?
A: TransFair USA is the only FLO-affiliated, non-profit Fair Trade certification organization in the United States. TransFair USA was founded in 1996, but due to lack of funding was stagnant until 1998, when it incorporated in Oakland under the leadership of longtime coffee farmer advocate Paul Rice. Initially, the organization focused on certifying coffee importers who were willing to trade according to Fair Trade criteria. In 1999, that focus shifted to roasters. In 1999 they focused most of their energies on Bay Area companies, but many socially responsible roasters across the nation have become licensees, especially after the April 2000 SCAA conference where TransFair brought producers from a dozen different Fair Trade cooperatives to show their product. In the fall of 2000 their focus is on Boston and the greater Northeast. As of mid-2000, there were over 50 importers and roasters licensed to sell Fair Trade coffee with the TransFair USA label. In addition, TransFair is active around promotion and consumer education around Fair Trade coffee. See www.transfairusa.org for more information.
Fair Trade Criteria and Monitoring
What are the Fairtrade Labeling Organizations (FLO) criteria for roasters and importers?
A: Any coffee roaster that complies with the following conditions can apply for the right to use of one of the Fair Trade Labels of FLO-International.
1. The purchasing price must have been fixed in accordance with the conditions established for this effect by FLO-International:
· Guaranteed floor price of $1.26 per pound for washed arabica.
· For Arabicas the New York "C" market shall be the basis of calculation. The price shall be established in US$-cents per pound, plus or minus the prevailing differential for the relevant quality, basis F.O.B. origin, net shipped weight. Over the established prices, there shall be a fixed premium of 5 US$-cents per pound.
· For certified organic or biological coffee with officially recognized certification, that will be sold as such, an additional premium of 15 US$-cents per pound green coffee will be due, on top of the FLO-International price.
2. The roaster/buyer is obliged to facilitate the coffee producers access to credit-facilities at the beginning of the harvest season, up to 60% of the value of the contracted coffee at Fair Trade conditions, at regular international interest rates. The credit will be cancelled upon shipment of the coffee.
3. Producers and roasters/buyers depend on reliability and continuity. For that reason, relations between both should be based on long term contracts (1 to 10 years).
The floor price of the Fair Trade criteria acts as a safety net, protecting small farmers when fluctuating market prices fall extremely low. Currently, the floor price for conventionally grown Arabica beans is $1.26/pound and $1.41/pound if the coffee is certified organic. When the market price is above the floor price, as it was during the 1994-98 period, the Fair Trade price is an additional $0.05/pound premium above normal market price. Therefore, the Fair Trade floor price is most relevant in times like the present, when the world market price hovers around $0.85/pound (meaning that most small farmers are only getting $0.20-0.40/pound). The Fair Trade floor prices were determined after considerable field research into production and living costs in various coffee-growing countries. Negotiation in 1988 between European Fair Trade leaders, farmer representatives and the industry established the initial floor prices.
The Fair Trade criteria around credit are especially important for small farmers. Without access to credit during the "lean months" between harvests, small farmers often are forced to sell the future rights to their harvests to local middlemen at extremely low prices in exchange for some cash up front. At harvest time, the farmers are not allowed to pay off the middlemen with cash - they must hand over the coffee. So without access to credit, many farmers would not be able to take advantage of the opportunity to sell at Fair Trade prices. This is why credit is built into the Fair Trade criteria as an obligation of the importer.
What are the Fairtrade Labeling Organizations criteria for producers?
A: FLO maintains a Coffee Producers Registry that is open to associations of small farmers who meet several criteria that can be summed up in the following way. They have to be poor; only small farmers who are not dependent on hired labor, not plantations, are represented. And they have to be democratically organized as small farmer associations that are independent and transparent. Representatives from FLO annually inspect Fair Trade farms in producing countries.
The exact FLO criteria for Producers are the following:
1. the majority of the members of the organization are small scale producers of coffee. By small producers are understood those that are not structurally dependent on hired labor, managing their farm mainly with their own and their family's labor-force;
2. the organization is independent and democratically controlled by its members. This means that the members of the organizations participate in the decision-making process which determines the general strategy of their organization, including decisions related to the destiny of the additional resources which result from operations in the framework of this agreement;
3. administrative transparency and effective control by the members and its Board over the management is secured, minimizing the risk of fraud and offering members the necessary instruments to be able to act adequately in case of fraud;
4. the philosophy motivating the organization is based on the concept and practice of solidarity;
5. no form of political, racial, religious or sexual discrimination is practiced;
6. the organization is statutarily open to new members;
7. the organization is politically independent, and there are sufficient guarantees that the organization will not become the instrument of any political party or interest;
8. the organization shares with the FLO-International and with the other organizations inscribed in the Producers' Register the following principles and general objectives:
· integral economic development, concentrating on improvement of production techniques and diversification of the production, in order to diminish dependency on one single product as a cash crop;
· integral organizational development, improving the managerial and administrative capacity of the actual and future leadership of the organization and ensuring full participation of the members in the definition of strategies and the use of extra income resulting from fair trade;
· integral social development, for instance through health care and educational programs, improvement of housing and water supply, thus creating better living conditions for the members and their families and the communities they live in;
· sustainable development strategies, applying production techniques which respect the specific ecosystems and contribute to the conservation and a sustainable use of natural resources, in order to avoid as much as possible - or even totally - the use of chemical inputs;
· integral human participation, offering especially women the opportunity to play a more active role in the development process and in the decision making process and management of the organization;
· improvement of the quality of the products as a strategic requirement for the small producers to defend themselves on both the Fair Trade Market and the regular market.
Logically, it is necessary that the quality of the coffee offered for exportation complies with the minimum quality standards as required by the different markets, and the organization must count with the management capacity to effectively export the coffee and act as a reliable commercial partner.
There are no criteria made for farm practices that the Fair Trade farmers must follow, even though Fair Trade standards explicitly support the development of organic agriculture and environmental protection. At the Fair Trade Producers' Assembly in June 1997, the producer groups themselves proposed a set of environmental standards. These standards included the use of leguminous trees, cultivation of timber species on the coffee farm, and windbreaks. These producer-derived indicators emphasize the awareness of "shade" as a beneficial farm practice, decreasing the likelihood that farmers will transfer to "sun" grown coffee as they increase their profits.
How does the certification process work?
A: As a member of the international Fair Trade network, TransFairUSA is responsible for monitoring the paper trail from crop to cup to ensure Fair Trade practices were followed throughout.
FLO maintains a Coffee Producers Registry that is open to associations of small farmers as detailed above. FLO maintains field monitors in countries and regions of origin, and makes annual visits to ensure producer compliance with the Fair Trade criteria. The majority of cooperatives fulfill or surpass the requirements of FLO's criteria wholeheartedly. If producer cooperatives are found not in compliance, they can be put on probation for a period to allow for improvement, and in rare cases, dismissed from the list for serious violations.
Importers and Roasters
In the U.S., coffee importers and roasters must sign a licensing agreement with TransFair USA in order to sell Fair Trade Certified coffee using TransFair's trademarked seal on their products. TransFair's Monitoring Department handles the US side of the coffee trail by monitoring licensee paperwork, including sales receipts and tracking numbers. Roasters must pay a licensing fee of 10 cents per pound to TransFair to ensure the sustainability of the system, and to ensure that costs for certification are born in the North rather than by the farmers.
Coffee Industry's Code of Conduct
Does the Fair Trade system work with large plantations?
A: Fair Trade is fundamentally focused on the small farmer, the producer of the great majority of the world's coffee. Therefore, it cannot address all of the social inequities associated with coffee production around the world. As noted earlier, by deliberately excluding plantations from the Fair Trade coffee market, the movement does little to improve the lot of landless farmworkers employed on those estates.
In contrast, in the case of tea and bananas, two largely plantation-grown crops, Fair Traders have developed criteria that address wages, living and working conditions of farmworkers, the right to organize, and even mechanisms for profit-sharing. Fair Trade inspectors report that monitoring and verification of fulfillment of these criteria for large estates are more challenging tasks than with small farmer cooperatives. Nevertheless, Fair Trade labelers made a political decision to engage the large-estate sector in the case of these two commodities. However, there has been contention involving bringing plantation grown coffee into the scene, because of the importance of the issue of land reform.
The Fair Trade coffee market is still too small to support both small farmers and plantations. Presently, less than half the total production volume of the small farmers on the International Fair Trade Register is sold at Fair Trade terms because worldwide demand is still too small to absorb it all. Bringing plantation grown coffee into the Fair Trade market would further dilute the position of the small holders. Therefore, any discussion of opening Fair Trade markets to estate owners (and farmworkers) should be postponed until the market grows large enough to absorb them without undermining the position of the small farmer cooperatives.
Is there a Code of Conduct for the treatment of workers on large plantations?
A: In lieu of developing Fair Trade criteria for plantation grown coffee, some Fair Trade leaders in Europe are promoting the development of a Code of Conduct to address the industry's sourcing practices and, in particular, the issues of wages and working conditions on large coffee estates. In July 1999, the European Fair Trade Association issued an open invitation to consumer and religious organizations across Europe to join them in a campaign to pressure the European Coffee Federation to implement a Code of Conduct or "Guidelines for Ethical Trading". A television documentary exploring the deplorable conditions on Guatemalan coffee estates sparked a massive response to this invitation. The European Coffee Federation, representing the large European roasters and importers, responded by discussing the subject of responsible business in their 1999 annual meeting. Global Exchange has agreed to be the US partner in this international effort, and is looking for other labor advocates interested in participating in this effort.
So far, the only effort in this direction in the U.S. has been Starbucks' 1995 Framework for action for sourcing coffee in Guatemala, which it only half-heartedly implemented after consumer pressure (coordinated by the US/Guatemala Labor Exchange, now US/LEAP) was applied. Global Exchange is maintaining pressure on Starbucks, demanding that they implement their Framework for Action plan. The rest of the U.S. coffee industry has yet to seriously look at Sourcing Guidelines or a Code of Conduct that effectively addresses the issues of wages, working conditions and organizing rights on plantations.
The Fair Trade Certified Coffee Campaign
Why did Global Exchange decide to start a Fair Trade coffee campaign?
A: Because coffee is so widely traded and consumed, it has an immense impact on the economic well-being of people in poor countries. For the same reason, it also offers one of the most promising avenues for bringing about positive change. Global Exchange believes that as we criticize free trade and corporate globalization for its lack of democracy and exploitation of poor people around the world, we need to promote our own vision of a just global trade system based on economic justice. In our work against sweatshops, we have struggled for years with the need for a comprehensive system of monitoring of wages and factory conditions that doesn't yet exist for garments as it does for coffee. With the inception of TransFair USA, Fair Trade Coffee certification became the first commodity where an independent monitoring system could track and verify that Fair Trade criteria had been met. We have been involved for ten years in promoting Fair Trade through our craft stores in San Francisco and Berkeley. Recognizing an alternative to free trade in Fair Trade Certified coffee, Global Exchange initiated a campaign in the summer of 1999.
What is the history of the Fair Trade coffee movement?
A: Global Exchange began spearheading a campaign to promote Fair Trade coffee in the summer of 1999. During the summer we focused our campaign on our local Bay Area. We organized a coalition of interested human rights, environmental, church, social justice, and student organizations that believed in the model of Fair Trade and wanted to help promote living wages for farmers. We outreached to the local press and generated stories about Fair Trade in the Oakland Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, Contra Costa Times, San Francisco Examiner, and San Jose Mercury News about Fair Trade coffee. We helped to host Santiago Rivera, a farmer from San Francisco's Sister City of Estelí, Nicaragua, for an event with San Francisco Supervisor and living wage advocate Tom Ammiano. We worked with San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland city councils to be the first governments in the country to offer Fair Trade Certified purchasing restrictions.
We increased the retail outlets that offer Fair Trade Certified coffee from just 4 to over 100 in just a few months! Our volunteers set up informational tables at many local events, hosted speakers on Fair Trade coffee at local schools and churches, and brought awareness to the need to purchase Fair Trade to a critical mass of people in the Bay Area.
In the fall of 1999 we began sowing the seeds for our nationwide campaign focusing on helping community activists and college students coordinate Fair Trade coffee campaigns on their campuses. We now have a network of over 50 communities, predominantly colleges, that are organizing educational outreach and campaigning to promote Fair Trade coffee and purchasing restrictions locally. Students at schools including Ohio University, Portland State, University of Chicago, Tulane, and Columbia are working to get sweatshop coffee off their campuses and replace it with Fair Trade Certified coffee, and students at UC Davis, College of the Atlantic, and SUNY Binghamton have already been successful. United Students Against Sweatshops, the Student Alliance to Reform Corporations, and student environmental organizations have participated in Fair Trade Certified coffee activities on their campuses, identifying it as an important tool towards decorporatizing our universities and greening our campuses. In addition, we continue to work with churches, environmental groups, unions, and other social justice communities to promote Fair Trade for farmers.
What is the history of the Starbucks campaign?
A: In the spring of 2000 we turned our sights towards Starbucks with the plan of pressuring them to offer their customers the choice to buy Fair Trade coffee at all of their stores across the country. Starbucks is the largest retailer of specialty coffee, owning a fifth of all cafes nationwide. In November, 1999, Global Exchange approached then Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, and requested that Starbucks buy Fair Trade Certified coffee. We then organized several peaceful demonstrations promoting Fair Trade in front of Starbucks in Seattle that same month. Starbucks was initially very hesitant, alleging low bean quality and insufficient consumer demand. We then initiated a massive letter writing campaign involving citizens across the nation, writing as consumers of Starbucks demanding they carry Fair Trade coffee.
In February, 2000, an investigative report by ABC-affiliate KGO in San Francisco exposed child labor and incredibly low wages in plantations in Guatemala, some of which sell coffee to Starbucks. On February 4th we organized a local protest as a result. On February 14th we petitioned stockholders at their Annual General Meeting in Seattle to respond to consumer demand and fairness and offer Fair Trade Certified coffee. In a meeting we had that day with Starbucks officials, they stated that they would not yet commit to doing so. That week, Starbucks announced a one-time shipment of 75,000 pounds of Fair Trade coffee as a sign that they were aware of the demand. We responded that for a company the size of Starbucks, this represented a "Drop in the Cup," an average of about 30 pounds per store - and that the coffee was not certified! We quickly dismissed this move in the media as an obvious public relations ploy, because this tiny token amount is only enough for about 30 pounds per store!
We then circulated an Open Letter, signed by 84 student, environmental, church, and social justice organizations, asking Starbucks to pay farmers a living wage and offer them the choice to buy Fair Trade Certified coffee. We helped organize 30 demonstrations to be held on April 13 across the country at Starbucks shops, with a large base of activists committed to helping farmers earn a living wage. Over 500 concerned people faxed in letters to Starbucks from our website, and hundreds more sent in postcards asking the giant retailer to offer Fair Trade coffee.
Three days before the launch of our campaign on April 13, Starbucks capitulated to our demands and announced an agreement with TransFairUSA to begin offering Fair Trade Certified coffee at all of its stores nationwide with a launch date of October 4. They will also be developing educational materials including posters, brochures, packaging, and training for coffee bar workers, so millions of customers will have the chance to learn about the benefits of Fair Trade. This is a huge victory for farmers whose incomes will triple, as hundreds more farmers will be able to sell their coffee at Fair Trade prices. It is also an importance victory for the corporate accountability movement. Starbucks' quick capitulation in the face of nationwide protests illustrates that grassroots organizing and education can indeed bring about major results. Starbucks has agreed to offer the coffee in whole bean form only, and we will be pressuring them to offer it in brewed coffees and espresso drinks this fall when the beans are on the shelves.
What is your relationship with the Specialty Coffee Association of America?
A: From April 14-18, 2000, we attended the Specialty Coffee Association of America, titled "Quality, Sustainability, and Social Responsibility." Fair Trade and discussions of fairness and sustainability played a major role in the conference, held in San Francisco. After the conference, we have been working with the SCAA to develop a workplan for their newly created Fair Trade Working Group. We have identified key areas in which the trade association, in an historic move, can help to play a leadership role in promoting Fair Trade amongst its members, including officially endorsing Fair Trade Certification, educating its members through trade publications, assisting in research needs, and helping to channel funding resources for product quality improvement to Fair Trade cooperatives.
Is there enough consumer demand for Fair Trade coffee?
A: According to the 1998 Cone/Roper benchmark study, 78% percent of consumers would rather purchase a product associated with a cause about which they believe. 54% say that they would pay more for a product that supports their cause. TransFair's 1997 consumer study revealed that 49% of specialty coffee drinkers surveyed said they would buy Fair Trade coffee. In the post-WTO climate, more and more people are demanding Fair Trade products. Most people in this country would rather buy a cup of coffee picked under fair trade conditions than sweatshop labor conditions.
Coffee Cooperative Stories
How does Fair Trade improve the lives of farmers?
Bit by bit, fair trade coffee has made a tangible difference in many farmers lives. Children gain access to medical care and education, where before these services were non-existent. Much needed infrastructure is built, and progress against poverty is achieved. These advancements are being made because people in consumer countries realize that they can have a positive impact with the way they choose to spend their money. Fair Trade Certified coffee is a socially and environmentally responsible way to conduct trade between developed and developing countries. This alternative form of trade has the power to revolutionize the global economy, illustrating that the global community can work together to provide for everyone's needs.
What about Fair Trade in Colombia?
A: The Regional Indigenous Council of Caldas, CRIDEC, has earned over $800,000 in fair trade premiums from coffee exports since 1992. With these funds, the Council has initiated a system of community stores in its region. These member-owned stores sell goods to the community at lower prices than the commercial competition, and carry the highest quality local produce that they can find. The fair trade premium has also enabled CRIDEC to build homes for 75 families, three administration centers, two coffee drying beds, and start a revolving loan fund for agricultural supplies. For more information about CRIDEC, contact Equal Exchange.
What about Fair Trade in Costa Rica?
A: A long history of co-ops and agrarian reform in the sixties has meant that Costa Rica has a deeply developed cooperative movement. By the eighties, co-ops accounted for 15% of the country's GNP and 25% of its workforce. Forty percent of the coffee produced by Costa Rica comes from co-ops. However, in the land of the large cooperative, COOCAFE, the Consortium of Coffee Cooperatives of Guanacaste & Montes de Oro, is an exception. Representing 8 of the smallest co-ops in the country, COOCAFE works to improve standards of living and provides resources for crop diversification, rainforest reforestation, women's development and educational programs. Founders of the Latin American Small Coffee Growers Front, COOCAFE also works to strengthen co-ops in other countries. We will be visiting COOCAFE during our Fair Trade tour to Costa Rica and Nicaragua in January of 2001. Check out www.globalexchange.org/tours for more information.
What about Fair Trade in Guatemala?
A: One cooperative Fair Traders such as Equal Exchange works with is V'al Voq Quyol Chajul Cooperative in the Guatemalan highlands. Guatemala's military-led war waged against the peasant farmers in the 1980s ravaged this indigenous Ixil Mayan community. The cooperative of 2,500 members -- 90% of whom live in areas not accessible by car -- are building back their strength and working to maintain the unique Ixil culture while building up its villages economically. Examples of this are their coffee exports to the fair trade market in Europe and the U.S., as well as a women-run store in the capital city selling handmade, indigenous crafts and clothing. With the money from fair trade premiums, Chajul has created its own bank and health clinic. The cooperative's Center for Development provides organic agriculture and leadership training working to make farming a desirable choice for the children of today's coffee farmers.
Cooperativa La Voz Que Clama En El Desierto
In 1977, there were several groups operating in San Juan La Laguna, helping men and women by providing them with small credits for agriculture and handicraft operations. In time, these groups no longer had the capacity to cover the needs of their members and it was decided to form a cooperative with the members of these groups. The first meeting was held under the shade of a cottonwood tree, "La Ceiba" (the national tree of Guatemala) in the courtyard of the old municipal building.
At this meeting, it was explained that the principal objective was to "procure the economic and social improvement of members and develop agricultural activities, especially coffee, onions and other regional crops". At this first meeting, many people were motivated to join the cooperative, which then started with 35 members of both sexes. There was discussion of the name to be given to the cooperative, but there were already too many organizations with the name St. John the Baptist, Patron Saint of the town. The members of the cooperative wanted a name which would honor their Patron Saint and so decided to call it "La Voz que Clama en el Desierto" or "A Voice Crying in the Wilderness" because John the Baptist preached in the desert.
"A Voice Crying in the Wilderness" Cooperative has its headquarters on the banks of beautiful Lake Atitlán, in the district of San Juan La Laguna, Department of Sololá, at an altitude of 1,585 meters above sea level (5,000 feet). It has 96 members, 86 of them active producers of certified organic coffee and members of OCIA International Company. The cooperative has its own wet mill with modern technology for processing and paved yards for drying parchment coffee. It delivers its products to international roasting firms, both American and European.
The harvest of the 86 members is processed in a wet mill built with the support of the USAID/ANACAFE project. It features ecological characteristics that give the coffee a better appearance and minimize the pollution. The 1,500 60-kilo bags produced by the cooperative are the Strictly Hard Bean (SHB) type, which is in great demand internationally because of its organic features.
The members and townspeople of San Juan La Laguna belong to the Tzutuhil ethnic group, who inherited their culture and hard-working nature. There are still vestiges of the civilization at the bottom of Lake Atitlán. They preserve their traditions and it is a region rich in the production of handmade textiles and other handicrafts, which are exported worldwide.
Organic cultivation, suitable climatic conditions and the special characteristics of Atitlán coffee have helped to create a good image internationally. The cooperative has sold to companies who recognize the attributes of the cultivation and preparation of this coffee.
The cooperative's social and economic projection and the quality of the coffee have drawn many visitors from the coffee sector and tourists who visit the lake.
"A Voice Crying in the Wilderness" is a cooperative organization that is promoting the development of its community.
Thanks to Peace Coffee for this information.
Q: What about Fair Trade in Mexico?
A: In Oaxaca, Mexico, the Union of Indigenous Communities of the Isthmus Region, established in 1982 now has over 5,000 families who farm roughly 15 acres. The tree was chosen by the Union of Indigenous Communities of the Isthmus Region, UCIRI, in Oaxaca, Mexico to represent the structure of the organization. The roots are the families of 53 communities that make up the foundation of UCIRI. The trunk stands for the General Assembly of Delegates elected by each of the communities. This assembly is the primary forum for the creation and implementation of the Union's projects, signified by the branches. The fruit hanging from the branches represents the results of their labor, shared by all of its members. These fruits include schools, health clinics, home visits by doctors, the training of nurses and dentists, and the strengthening of their indigenous culture. This coop has helped create the region's only public busline; a hardware and farm supply center; healthcare services; cooperative corn mills; an agricultural extension and training program; accounting training; and the only secondary school in the region. Many Fair Traders purchase UCIRI's fine coffees.
S.S.S. Mut Vitz of Mexico, "Bird Mountain" Coffee Cooperative The communities linked to this cooperative are located in the Northern Highlands of Chiapas, in 6 municipalities: El Bosque, Simojovel, Bochil, Jitotol, San Andres Larrainzar, and Chenalho. There are currently over 1,000 farmers associated to the cooperative, and Mut Vitz will produce an estimate 15,000 quintales (100-pound bags) of high-altitude coffee this year. The cooperative Mut Vitz is primarily comprised of Tzotzil Indigenous campesino farmers. The producers are currently in transition from "natural production" to "certifiable organic" production methods and pay particular attention to all appropriate practices for sustainable, shade-grown coffee.
Mut Vitz coordinates a network of 48 organic promoters working in 28 communities to consolidate their own participative process for the transfer of technology and practical know-how for the organic production of coffee. These promoters have already made great strides towards fortifying their own organizational structures and local leadership. Because of the lack of government support for people living in this zone, producers have been searching for autonomous economic and social alternatives to support development in their communities. One critical aspect is the creation of alternative, economic models, supportive of social development for the promotion of democracy, self-management and sustainability, as well as covering the people«s basic needs of food, health care and local infrastructure.
What about Fair Trade in Nicaragua?
A: PRODECOOP, based in Esteli, Nicaragua was founded in 1993. The membership includes 69 cooperatives with over 2,420 families, who typically farm 7 to 11 acres. Projects undertaken by PRODECOOP involve the construction of schools and healthcare centers; training in administration; legal matters and organizational issues. From sales to the fair trade market, PRODECOOP will generate over $600,000 in premiums for the membership this year alone. This is used to pay bank debt, invest in farm improvements, improve nutrition and avoid the loss of land due to crushing debt service.
Miguel Rodriguez and his family are a member of this coop. Over the last 5 years, Miguel estimates that his family has more than doubled their annual income as a result of fair trade. This has allowed Miguel's daughter Rosa Maria (age 11) to stay in school long past the age when she would have had to start working in the fields.
Merling Preza Ramos, Director of the Fair Trade Cooperative PRODECOOP in Nicaragua, told Global Exchange in April that "El productor esta ofertando café de muy buena calidad, y a cambio, pide que le paguen el precio justo, el precio real, el valor real de su producto. Entonces no es una caridad. Debe haber un piso que le permite al productor seguir produciendo su café, seguir mejorando, porque el café no solo es la taza que se toma. Detras de la taza hay caras, hay gente. Gente que estan trabajando por producir un buen café. Se debe revisar la estructura porque de repente, nosotros vemos aqui que hay mucho dineroÉy el pequeńo productor esta allá, muchas veces sin que comer."
"The producer is offering coffee of very high quality, and in return, asks that they are paid a fair price, the real price, the real value of their product. Therefore, it's not a charity. There should be a floor price that permits the producer to keep producing the coffee, keep improving the quality because coffee is not just the cup that you drink. Behind the cup there are faces, there are people. People who are working to produce a good quality coffee. The structure should be revised because we can see that there is a lot of money here, and yet the small producer is far away, often times without anything to eat."