Fair and Fascinating Fair Trade Features

Marc Gunther, a seasoned journalist with past bylines in Slate, CNNMoney, FORTUNE and elsewhere, has turned his professionally unbiased lens towards the specialty coffee world in two fascinating new features this week. First, Mr. Gunther provides some birds-eye overview on the recent split between Transfair (now Fair Trade USA) and FLO, or Fairtrade Labeling Organizations, an international heading for fair trade operations.

“This is an exciting moment in the Fair Trade movement’s history because it’s a chance to revisit our purpose, our goals and our practices,” says Ben Corey-Moran, the president of Thanksgiving Coffee Co. , a socially-conscious artisan roaster in northern California. (Its slogan: “Not Just a Cup, But as Just Cup.”) “But it’s also a very dangerous moment. We could confuse or alienate a lot of consumers.”

Mr. Gunther also interviews Paul Rice, president and CEO of Fair Trade, along with Rodney North of Equal Exchange, the most vocal opponent of this split between FT USA and the FLO. It’s beyond refreshing to read coverage like this provided by Mr. Gunther, who approaches these issues with the cool levelheadedness of a proper business reporter, without a dog in the fight or a pre-formed opinion. This article is a fair, even-handed must-read for your week.

Marc Gunther – A schism over Fair Trade.

There’s another piece on Mr. Gunther’s blog that deserves your perusal. In it, he compares ethical sourcing, social and environmental practices preached by two specialty coffee companies: Thanksgiving Coffee, a family-owned roaster in Mendocino County, CA, and Starbucks, who you may have heard of before. Turns out there’s a common thread uniting both:

The big coffee company and the little one share a couple of important goals. First, they want to win the trust of their customers and, of course, their own employees. One way to do that is by showing them that their coffee is ethically-sourced. Starbucks talks about responsibly grown coffee, citing its Coffee and Farmer Equity (CAFE) Practices, a set of social, economic, environmental and quality guidelines. Thanksgiving’s slogan is ““Not Just a Cup, but a Just Cup.”  Reputation matters, whether you are big or small.

But, even if reputation didn’t matter (and to most customers, it probably doesn’t), Starbucks and Thanksgiving need to devote their attention to the social and environmental practices of their growers, upon whom they depend for a reliable supply of high-quality coffee. If their coffee farmers run into trouble–because of low coffee prices, poor environmental practices or climate change–Starbucks and Thanksgiving will struggle, too.

We suggest you spend time with this feature as well. Can we nominate this guy for next year’s SCAA Symposium?

Marc Gunther – At Starbucks and Thanksgiving Coffee, it’s not just a cuppa joe.

Marc Gunther – A schism over Fair Trade