Tuesday, January 15, 2008


i have to say, i've come around. i like starbucks. Interesting article from Arts and Letter's Daily on the guy reading the book on Starbucks. I like this bit on Fair Trade:

Starbucks hasn't made much of a commitment to fair trade. But to Clark, this isn't very damning, because he doesn't regard fair trade as a viable solution to the coffee problem. Fair trade farmers, he says, get paid a fixed price, so they have no incentive to produce quality coffee—"It's an open secret," he writes, "that Fair Trade beans have historically been much lower in quality than their unsanctified cousins." And how many consumers will really pay a higher price for worse coffee? Starbucks, meanwhile, buys high-quality beans on the open market, for which it typically pays a few cents less per pound than the sanctioned fair trade price (last year, it paid more). Clark believes that this approach has the potential to raise living standards for far more farmers than fair trade, which is, essentially, an elaborate charity. "If you want to advance the welfare of farmers and their families," he concludes, "you'll have to indulge your taste for high-quality beans as often as possible."

Yes! A reason to buy lots of delicious overpriced coffee! Another thing I'm going to miss from Google. We have 5 canisters downstairs right now of delicious premium barefoot roasters blends.


  1. Haven't read the original article, but your summary is unfair. Fairtrade certification isn't just a minimum price: it's also a set of labor standards (health and safety, child labor, wages, etc). So you're not just buying "elaborate charity", you're buying (in theory) a lack of exploitation.

    (Personally, I wish it was possible to get certification for labor practices and environmental sustainability without price or wage floors.)

  2. I know. I did not present a very unbiased view of fair trade, and even within that article the author talks more about what you mentioned and quotes someone else presenting an alternate viewpoint.

    But this bit about the quality is something I've never heard before, which is quite interesting. I agree with you that regulations on conditions should be decoupled from the price floors.

  3. I don't think the quality criticism holds. Farmers still have to find buyers for their coffee, and if buyers are paid more they expect to get a high quality so they can sell it for more. Just because a farmer grew fair trade coffee doesn't guarantee that they'll find someone to buy it.