Sunday, May 15, 2011

Fair Trade Coffee: Another Well-Meaning Initiative Gone Bad

Brewing Justice: Fair Trade Coffee, Sustainabi...                                        Image via Wikipedia
I've never been a big fan of fair trade coffee. Knowing its roots in environmentalism and western do-goodism, I figured it was largely symbolic and decided to just stay a straight consumer. I'm willing to pay a fair price for coffee; I just don't need to buy coffee that's marked "Fair Trade".

Turns out, good call.

This article vindicates my hunch.

When it comes to well-meaning initiatives to help the 3rd world, whether it's "Make Poverty History", or carbon offsets, or whatever, it's not really about helping others; it's about us. Let that last thought sink in. It's more about "doing something" and helping form or solidify our western self-image, appeasing western guilt and self-loathing, or feeling good about ourselves, than about actually helping people.

Here's an excerpt:
Along the way, the church officer mentioned that the parishioners wanted to do what they could to help poor farmers in the Third World. I replied that I’d be happy to supply the church, but I also advised him that fair-trade coffee would not help the poorest of farmers — these smallholders are actually hurt when Western consumers forsake them for coffee produced by better-off farmers who can afford the certification fees.
I also mentioned that various coffees produced by small farmers in some of the neediest parts of Africa would taste superb while costing the church less, allowing it to spend the difference on some other worthwhile cause.
After a long pause, the church official replied something like: “I still think the parishioners would feel better knowing that they were drinking fair-trade coffee.”
See, it's not really about "them"; it's all about us.
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"... nothing intellectually compelling or challenging.. bald assertions coupled to superstition... woefully pathetic"