Tag Archives: fair trade

Fair Trade fair?

There is an interesting discussion going on at Scot McKnight’s blog about whether or not Fair Trade is a good thing.  Naturally, there are good (non-self-interested) arguments for both sides in the comment (Scot is now blogging at beliefnet.com and I haven’t quite figured out how to get both the full text of the post and all the comments at the same time).

One comment (by a Joey) stood out for me:

Live local, buy local. I don’t claim to know tons about how the world market works or even the Fair Trade industry but it seems that the only sustainable and responsible way to do agriculture is to do it locally and to encourage others to do the same. We have plenty of farm land in the US to supply our nutritional needs. So do countries in South America. It is our attitude of entitlement that makes us think we deserve strawberries in January not our responsible stewardship.

(No comment linkage possible.)

Not about the Fair Trade issue per se, but a good point nonetheless.  I keep thinking that I should, to begin with, buy more stuff at the local farmer’s market.

My Economics 101 professor in university told me that I should think about pursuing an economics major.  Economics 200 proved within the first two weeks of class to be disasterous for me, so that didn’t pan out.  So, I don’t have a clue about the ins and outs of international trade, economics and politics, but I’ve always wondered why we import grain and oil (for instance) from other countries when it’s my understanding that we’re quite capable of meeting our own demand for those products.

Incidentally, the other day I got to thinking that I should just start buying Tim Hortons’ beans, because, quite frankly, it’s the coffee I enjoy most (I don’t care what the rest of you snobs think).  Judging by their website (their website, mind you), Tim Hortons appears to be involved in fair trade practices (without, apparently, a stamp of approval from an arbitrary fair trade approver and stamper) and even addressing some of the concerns of some of the commenters on Scot McKnight’s blog.

They offer

direct financial assistance for technical training to improve the quantity and quality of coffee produced and assist farmers in getting their coffee to market at the best time and for the best price. Assistance is also provided on environmental management, in both proper farming techniques and reforestation projects, led by Tim Hortons.

Tim Hortons also recognizes the need for direct involvement with coffee growing communities for their social programs – providing assistance primarily in education and medical care.

The Tim Hortons approach is different from other world wide sustainable coffee initiatives. While admirable, some programs may require certification on behalf of the farmers which is an expense they cannot afford, plus the price provided may be less than what it should be and may have no relation to the quality of the coffee produced. In addition, the programs can have little or no involvement on the part of the coffee retailer. The Tim Hortons program ensures that the money spent actually reaches or benefits the coffee grower and the surrounding community. (link)

Am I just gullible or can I buy Tim Hortons coffee in good conscience?  (And if you think I’m gullible—how many of you have looked up the organizations that allow other FT coffees to put their stamp of approval on their packaging—how do we ever know if it’s really fair trade without going down to the plantations ourselves?)