Saturday, September 8, 2007
It is imperative that I start my day off with a cup of coffee and I am not alone, as over 50% of Canadians drink coffee on a daily basis whether it is at home or from a coffee shop. In fact Canadians consume more than 40 million cups of coffee a day. Coffee’s allure comes from its aromatic character, boastful flavor and offers a caffeine jolt that can shake the cobwebs out of your head.
"What is the first thing you think of when you think of coffee?"
I decided to randomly ask the first ten people I ran into today that exact question. The typical themes/answers I received were Tim Hortons, Starbucks, morning and cookie/donuts. As expected no one mentioned anything about poverty or sustainable development. What does poverty and sustainable development have to do with coffee?
Most, if not all, Canadian coffee comes from developing countries including Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua … Unfortunately, large corporations like STARBUCKS © obtain coffee from these developing countries in a manner which unfairly exploits the poor people of these regions, by paying them low prices for their coffee and then selling it at a higher price. The consequences are that coffee farmers are becoming more impoverished, and losing their lands, all the while large corporation (Starbuck’s) are reaping the economic benefits.
In order to ensure the producers in the developing countries receive fair price for the goods we consume some organizations have dedicated their efforts to push for more fair trade practices. Fair trade is a social movement which promotes standards for international labor, environmentalism and social policy in areas related to production of fair trade goods. Fair trade focuses on exports from developing countries to developed countries. The intent of fair trade practices is to help the producers and workers in these developing countries to remain independent and achieve economic sustainability in the international trade market.
Under fair trade practices less money goes to the “middleman” and more goes to the coffee grower. They (coffee growers) receive about 28 cents for every dollar spent by the coffee-consuming public, compared to about 11 cents per dollar under non-fair trade practices. When the producer is paid a fair price which covers the cost of production, it also enables them to produce the beans in a socially just (reduced exploitation of cheap women and child labor) and environmentally sound manner.
However, there needs to be a demand for “fair-trade” coffee in order for countries to be granted fair trade status. Currently, Nicaragua is in what is called a “coffee crisis” because it has been deemed that there is no demand for it – however, you have corporations like Starbucks that are not buying from fair trade importers and not brewing fair trade coffee but are getting richer and richer while Nicaraguan’s are getting poorer and poorer, losing their lands and dying from starvation.
I target Starbucks because they are the largest coffee chain in the world and only a measly 0.1% to 1% of all their purchases represent Fair Trade coffee. There is a campaign to push Starbucks to brew fair trade coffee and to highlight it at least once per week as the coffee of the day. In order to help this campaign you can send a free fax from the Global Exchange website: www.globalexchange.org/coffee.
You can also help developing countries by buying fair trade products (look for the label) and when buying from a coffee chain ask for fair trade brew. Locally, Bridgehead & Ten thousand villages among others are supporters of Fair Trade practices.
So next time you sit down to enjoy a cup of coffee ask yourself the question:
“What does my coffee make me think of?”