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a cup of fair trade

August 1, 2012

Fair Trade, as i’ve written before, is a very convoluted subject. There are many studies and findings about the positives and negatives. As a researcher I am always reading for more than just content. While reading a policy article that a friend sent my way I was struck by the bias in the writing. The use of one study to prove a point for an entire broad issue is a very negative way to conduct research and must be absolved from future works to better assess studies and certifications.

The article i’m referencing is called Is Fair Trade in Coffee Production Fair and Useful? Evidence from Costa Rica and Guatemala and Implications for Policy by Colleen E. H. Berndt. It is an interesting work about a specific area. Various studies are used to show that Guatemala and Costa Rica are not suitable for Fair Trade. This is due to the high value of their coffee, and the fact that most of the Fair Trade Certified coops are in low quality areas. This keeps the price high though the quality is low and is therefore unsustainable as written in the paper. They also reference the lack of demand for Fair Trade coffee from these areas, which is due to the fact that the quality is not as good. These are problems that Fair Trade needs to better address but are not reasons to remove Fair Trade’s influence entirely as the paper prescribes.

The answer given to these problems by the author is to change the institutional structure of the governments of Costa Rica and Guatemala to protect and better represent coffee farmers. While this is essential, Fair Trade is attempting to offer a more prompt and plausible answer. This certification allows consumers to fairly interact with coffee farmers without waiting for government intervention or restructuring. There are other answers to alleviate these problems using Fair Trade certification, such as higher standards of quality and more specific, individual answers to problems. Abolishing a system that is doing good in many places because it is negative in one is not sustainable or positive. Providing more options for farmers instead of asking them to wait for institutional change that will include them is essential.

This is a broad argument that has many sides and voices. Using information from an area to help that area improve and succeed is beneficial, applying that knowledge to an entire certification system is not.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 2, 2012 6:12 pm

    I have been trying to follow the travails of the Nicarguan coffee business for a long time. My impression is that the Fair Trade movement there has improved the quality by giving the growers more of a stake in the final price of the product. Your article is interesting and something to think about.

    Thanks for sharing.

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