Lately, with some Fair Trade goods , especially coffee, I have seen a few tweets and comments on articles that relate to quality control problems. Before I bought a very bad bag of ground coffee at a big box store, I didn’t have much buy-in for the debate. The taste was no better than a bottom of the barrel can of bold, freeze-dried coffee that could be purchased at the local grocery store in a generic can.You may want to check out my review here for more.
This was really no big deal for me, as the consistency of fair trade coffee typically surprises me very pleasantly. It got me thinking, however, about a point posed by Colleen Haight in a 2011 article in the Stanford Social Review entitled, “The Problem with Fair Trade Coffee.” Among other legitimate criticisms, the writer pointed out that some growers might supply fair trade buyers with lower quality beans, reserving the very best beans to earn gourmet prices, thereby ensuring that they earn top dollars in both tranches. As a result of customer reviews, the writer did not note that fair trade certified coffees under different labels have increased their quality levels in recent years.
In fact, there is now a sustained trend in the highest classes of gourmet coffees to market Fair Trade coffee; and, from what I can at least tell, fair trade coffee maintains these higher standards as well as any other standards. This may be the real question: how well advertisers understand, connect with, and disclose the origins of their coffee beans. If the fair trade coffee marketing company takes a hands-off approach to its source stream, its consumers would be more likely to be disappointed by hit or miss or simply consistently low quality. But they are more likely to aim to meet these expectations to receive the higher pay for the beans if growers are aware of the quality specifications. In addition, advertisers need to be able to explain to their customers why paying a little extra for coffee is both necessary and successful for customers. They need to demonstrate how the extra money is being used by farmers and their communities for positive benefits.
In all aspects of ethically driven marketing, such openness is important. One arena where the need for openness can become very tricky is fair trade apparel. One challenge is the especially cruel and opportunistic world of wholesale apparel. If a Fair Trade clothing label releases too much about its suppliers, other, more predatory producers could attempt to lure workers away from their cooperatives, producing the same products as the cooperative with no restrictions to offer back to the group.
This phenomenon has been observed time and time again in the manufacture of wholesale scarves. Since scarves do not have to be made in a variety of sizes and are suitable items for hand looms, any organisation willing to visit the villages and seek out individual weavers and support staff may easily co-opt the designs already in existence.