I’m now going to tell you some things about the Fair Trade movement. I believe that the best source for information about that is Matt Earley, who is (at the time of this writing) president of Just Coffee Cooperative (which I have not had any dealings with). I discovered Just Coffee Cooperative Coffee years ago. I don’t remember exactly how, but I’m sure it was simply as a result of reading around online.
JCC is based in Madison Wisconsin, which state is presided over by the fascist (Republican) governor Scott Walker, who was caught on video discussing with a billionaire friend how to divide and conquer the working class of Wisconsin. Scott and his associates (in and out of formal politics) are big believers in inequality and perversity. He wasn’t elected to attack collective bargaining (freedom) – to go by public statements made by him when stumping – but decided, once elected, that that was his real job and proceeded to attack Wisconsin workers with all of his might. His attack on citizens of Wisconsin was vicious and supported by billionaires in Wisconsin and beyond, and it’s still going strong.
My latest email update from JCC includes some thoughts about fair trade from Matt Earley, who didn’t care for a HuffPost article, by Bruce Wydick, that he had had brought to his attention by someone (which article I honestly didn’t find to be that awful). Here’s an excerpt from the email I received:
To repeat a long held realization – “fair trade” is not one thing and neither is “direct trade”. “Fair trade” is hardly ever fair and direct trade is rarely “direct”. These are marketing terms and mean something different to each company that uses them. There is no unified definition for either of these marketing terms as the author of the article seems to believe.
If you are trying to assess a coffee company’s ethics ask yourself these questions:
1) What is the company claiming to do to conduct a better way of trading and to alleviate the poverty felt so acutely in primary producing communities?
2) Is that company willing to prove that they are doing what they say by showing their contracts, financials, project details, etc. If a company operates transparently and is making a real effort, I say buy their product if you like it no matter what marketing term they claim – “Fair”, “Direct”, or whatever.
Fair Trade was supposed to be about fair trade. The focus was on small farmers, who, because they were small and independent, lacked resources and found it hard to compete with farmers ‘supported’ by big players. But mafia capitalism within the neoliberal system means that fairness means ‘strongest’ and ‘biggest’. One of the big players who muscled into the fair trade movement and helped to ruin it is Star Bucks whose boast is “Big is beautiful.” These are things I picked up from blog posts on JCC’s website years ago. Matt is still talking about fair trade and related issues, and issuing warnings about propaganda about the same, but, clearly, he’s tired of it, even if he’s not ready to abandon the cause of ‘just’ coffee and a just world.
I see that JCC has partnered with a couple of other orgs – Outside The Bean and On The Ground – who share JCC’s values. (However, Outside The Bean’s website notes that it is a “project of Just Coffee Cooperative.”) They are mentioned in the ‘about’ image, below. I am surprised, now that I’ve looked around on the JCC website, at the lack of basic info. Then again, When you click over to Outside The Bean, you will learn that JCC’s president (a co-founder) is Matt Earley. I don’t see much in the way of dates for things like the fateful visit to Chiapas Mexico that is mentioned on the JCC website. (I could research it I supposed. But gosh!) I had intended to round out my info about fair trade by utilizing some of the info I recall from early JCC blog posts, but those are not to be found. I emailed JCC, in frustration, to point that out, although how they organize their website is up to them. Oh well, I guess the transparency exists where it counts. Still, My email did include a link to a website that focusses more on the subject of fair trade. I’m going to examine that. As for old JCC posts that I’m remembering but no longer have access to, I am gratified that using the right terms in online searches yields promising returns. So I’ve got some reading to do. I shall return with more info.
Okay (I’m returned), From an article titled “Interview With A Revolutionary Roaster,” by Sarah Miller, the following is a bit of clarification for the minimal bio for Matt on the Outside The Bean website. Matt has answered a question by Sarah with the following info:
Just Coffee came about when my partner Mike Moon and I began to work with Zapatista coffee farmers from the Autonomous Municipality of Santa Catarina in Chiapas. I started going to Chiapas right after the Acteal Massacre in . Some folks here, in Madison, Wisconsin started a relationship with the communities of Santa Catarina in 1999. Most of the people we met there were coffee farmers. They were beginning to form a producer co-op that they would eventually call Yachil Xolobal Chulchan. They asked us to help them get into fair markets with their coffee, which seemed do-able at the outset. However, without FLO [the Fair Trade Labeling Organization] certification or organic certification, no roasters or importers in the States wanted to buy their coffee. To make a long story short, they finally convinced us to buy their coffee ourselves and start roasting.
That interview, I might add, is well worth reading. I think you will find it well worth thinking about, if you are interested in the subject.
From an interesting Nation magazine article (which I see, by my attached comment, I read years ago, lol) by Scott Sherman (“The Brawl Over Fair Trade Coffee”), the following:
Matt Earley and his colleagues at Just Coffee in Madison ended their relationship with FTUSA in 2004: “We saw almost all of this coming nearly ten years ago—the pandering to corporate coffee, them wanting to change their rules to dumb down standards in order to get the big boys more involved.” Earley is fervently devoted to fair trade, but he’s decided to do it on his own terms, outside the certification model. His website lists eighteen coffee cooperatives with whom he has a business relationship. Among them is the Yachil Xolobal Chulchan cooperative in Chiapas, Mexico, which has 1,552 members in seven autonomous municipalities run by the Zapatista revolutionary movement, and which has endured repression at the hands of government security forces and paramilitary groups. Just Coffee pays the cooperative $3.03 a pound for its beans—nearly double the floor price guaranteed under the fair trade system. “We are committed,” Earley says, “to paying farmers a better price than they would receive almost anywhere else.”
In solidarity with the farmer cooperatives, Earley has also decided to embrace the small producer’s symbol—yet another reminder that politically conscious consumers had better scrutinize the fine print on the label. A precarious but worthy experiment is now under threat. Bring your reading glasses to the supermarket.
Regarding the above: *edit, June 10, 2010 – The Nation disappeared all of the comments attached to that article. I don’t know when. I don’t visit the fakey Nation magazine website.
Matt, and Chris Treter from Higher Grounds Coffee, went on a lengthy Central American tour and it ended up becoming a documentary titled “Connected By Coffee.” You can purchase it online apparently. But it also appears to be online in about five different videos. The website, “Fair Trade Chronicles,” has the video segments mixed in with other non video items and, for some strange reason, you will find them laid out over a number of pages with the first installments on the last page. (Feb 13, 2018 – Note that the link to Fair Trade Chronicles leads to a warning from my antivirus. Therefore, I removed the link.) Just so you know. Here’s an intro video just to whet your appetite: