Sunday, March 01, 2015
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Java becomes star in war on unfair trade

The fair trade movement seems to be catching on

Java becomes star in war on unfair trade

By Joyce King

British actor Colin Firth is best known for his deliciously arrogant role as Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. But of late, he may be recognized more as the guy in an ad having buckets of coffee dumped on his head.

Firth's willingness to take on this role is intended to highlight his passionate campaign to assist Oxfam, a humanitarian agency, in helping impoverished farmers in several coffee-producing countries earn living wages. Before his coffee bath, Firth had invested in a new chain of London coffee shops named Progreso fair trade coffee bars. The operative words here are "fair trade." Those two words sent me, an ignorant American, on a guilt trip.

At the heart of the fair trade issue are products that are overproduced in crop-subsidized parts of the world, including the United States and Europe. The surplus is then dumped on other countries. This "unfair" practice undercuts prices and puts poor, indigenous farmers out of business. Other commodities that take a similar path: cotton, sugar, rice and wheat.

What Firth and Oxfam want is for the World Trade Organization, at its next meeting in Hong Kong later this year, to work out a new agriculture agreement that would end these dumping practices and open up the markets of richer nations to these poorer farmers.
Until then, change must take root on a smaller scale.

Progreso shops share their profits with poor farm workers who pick the beans in Ethiopia, Honduras and Indonesia. Progreso customers can savor a premium quality blend from co-ops in those three countries, thereby allowing the outlet to do something extraordinary — make poor farmers part owners in the venture.

The fair trade movement seems to be catching on elsewhere, too. Fair trade coffee in the United Kingdom is a hot commodity. According to Oxfam, in 2003 British consumers were credited with buying 67% more fair trade coffee in coffee shops than the year before.

After plopping down $3.90 for a Grande Non-fat Caramel Macchiato, I asked my neighborhood Starbucks manager whether the company sold fair trade products. Starbucks has been selling fair trade coffee since 2000. The manager also said Starbucks earmarks profits to build schools for these farmers' children.

Also, more than 400 other U.S. companies sell fair trade certified coffee. In fact, Dunkin' Donuts is one of the first nationally recognized American brands to sell espresso beverages exclusively made with fair trade certified coffee.

Co-ops with producers are rapidly becoming a global way for citizens to "do the right thing" by poor farmers — at least until the WTO sees fit to do the same.
Joyce King is a freelance writer in Dallas.


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