A Niche for Sustainability? Fair Labor and Environmentally Sound Practices in the Specialty Coffee Industry

Globalizations (Impact Factor: 0.47). 06/2008; 5(2):231-245. DOI: 10.1080/14747730802057621

ABSTRACT Facing a worldwide coffee crisis in which prices fell to levels that do not support small-scale production or living wages for coffee workers, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and specialty coffee companies have attempted to promote transparent and sustainable exchanges between producers and buyers. The NGO-based initiatives are diverse; they may focus on improving the lot of small farmers via Fair Trade, emphasize environmental protection, provide technical and/or business assistance to producers, or offer differentiating certifications based how producers score on a long list of social and environmental indicators. Specialty coffee roasters have introduced their own comprehensive sustainability projects. This is a critical review of many sustainability projects and their outcomes to date, including two examples of smallholder farmer-NGO collaborations that have yielded positive results.A Chinese version of this article's abstract is available online at:

  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: What knowledge travels along, and is injected into, the global commodity chain of coffee, on its path from tree to cup? In this paper I examine the discourse and imagery employed by the socially responsible niche of the global coffee market to determine what the final product itself tells us about its roots, its travels, and the web of capitalist relations of production and consumption that surrounds it. I analyze the packaging, promotional and informational materials, and web text of coffee websites and find that the patterns of the discourse of socially responsible coffee suggest knowledge of coffee farmers, global capitalism, and the consumer self that pivot around axes and intersections of race, gender, and class. I argue that the contours of this discourse serve to rearticulate the dominant relations of global capitalist production and consumption in everyday life in the United States. Using racialized and culturally essentialized depictions of coffee farmers and their locales, I argue the discourse and its imagery rearticulates the established global division of labor between the global south and north. The discourse and imagery functions as an extension of colonial paternalist ideology that rests on the presumed need of coffee farmers, and is juxtaposed against benevolent consumers, who the discourse describes as socially responsible, ethical beings who do good by participating in the global system of capitalism.
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Contemporary global politics is characterized by an increasing trend toward experimental forms of governance, with an emphasis on private governance. A plurality of private standards, codes of conduct and quality assurance schemes currently developed particularly, though not exclusively, by TNCs replace traditional intergovernmental regimes in addressing profound global environmental and socio-economic challenges ranging from forest deforestation, fisheries depletion, climate change, to labor and human rights concerns. While this trend has produced a heated debate in science and politics, surprisingly little attention has been paid on the effects of private governance on questions of distribution and justice. This is highly problematic. At the beginning of the twenty-first century global inequalities are greater than ever before, while rapid economic, social, political, and environmental changes threaten to further derail sustainable development and humanitarian objectives. If private governance creates or intensifies some of the pressing global inequalities (e.g., food security), and alleviates others (e.g., environmental degradation), from a business ethics perspective, we need to know which aspects need to be strengthened and where appropriate interventions are necessary and desirable. This paper proposes a framework to examine and classify the distributive outcomes of private governance institutions through the lenses of one particular approach to distributive justice, the capability approach. Empirically, it focuses on agrifood one area where the controversy regarding the distributive concerns of private governance are particularly pronounced.
    Journal of Business Ethics · 0.96 Impact Factor
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Although research into fair and alternative trade networks has increased significantly in recent years, very little synthesis of the literature has occurred thus far, especially for social considerations such as gender, health, labor, and equity. We draw on insights from critical theorists to reflect on the current state of fair and alternative trade, draw out contradictions from within the existing research, and suggest actions to help the emancipatory potential of the movement. Using a systematic scoping review methodology, this paper reviews 129 articles and reports that discuss the social dimensions of fair and alternative trade experienced by Southern agricultural producers and workers. The results highlight gender, health, and labor dimensions of fair and alternative trade systems and suggest that diverse groups of producers and workers may be experiencing related inequities. By bringing together issues that are often only tangentially discussed in individual studies, the review gives rise to a picture that suggests that research on these issues is both needed and emerging. We end with a summary of key findings and considerations for future research and action.
    Agriculture and Human Values 30(1). · 1.36 Impact Factor


Available from