I had no more completed my December 5 entry here (“On Being Cooperative”) when I received notice that the New York Times had published an article authored by William Neuman about the state of the fair trade movement. There is a schism forming which essentially would allow the larger producer plantations to participate in the fair trade designation. The U.S. branch of Fair Trade favors their inclusion, suggesting that even more of the poor people who work on these plantations would benefit by the “trickle down” theory of wealth-sharing (my slant). The folks at Fair Trade International oppose the change, citing the likelihood that the large farms will easily squeeze out the participation of small producers, the very people who were targeted for help in the fair trade movement. (Take a look at the positions in the Times article.)
Timing is everything. The Foundation’s primary collaborators on the work we have been doing with coffee cooperatives in Nicaragua had just completed an article about the development and challenges of coffee cooperatives when the Times article was published. So after you’ve had the opportunity to read the relatively short Times article, take a look at the perspective of some folks who are working intimately with cooperatives at all levels: first, second and third-tier. It makes for some interesting comparisons, and may help you decide which side of the fair trade argument you might be on. It just may impact the way that you buy coffee or any other so-called fair trade products….