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

Globalizations (Impact Factor: 0.47). 01/2008; 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: Increasing numbers of consumers see themselves as ‘partners’ in poverty reduction, purchasing Fairtrade products to offset inequalities in the global economy and to ensure that producers in developing countries enjoy the same basic rights and freedoms as their Western counterparts. Yet the extent to which ethical consumption is restructuring commodity chains in a way that diminishes hierarchies between producers and consumers remains an open question. Drawing on a qualitative research project of ethical sourcing in African agriculture, this paper discusses the extent to which key tenets of the fair trade system—empowerment, transparency, equal exchange, and democratic participation—are realized among Fairtrade tea producers in Kenya. It suggests that while such ideals embrace the aspirations of sustainable development, their achievement remains distant from the experience of many producers, for whom ethical outcomes are shaped by an array of conflicting interests, both within and beyond the commodity chain.A Chinese version of this article's abstract is available online at:
    Globalizations 01/2008; 5(2):305-318. · 0.47 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: The marketing of coffee through group-based, certified market channels is often promoted by governments and donors as a viable business model for poor small-scale farmers. Organic and fairtrade coffees have become very popular among socially, environmentally and health conscious consumers in recent years. While coffee certification programs have been in place for over fifteen years, there are few studies on the welfare impacts of certification schemes. Therefore, this research seeks to analyse the impacts of certification on poverty alleviation and to identify the critical factors which explain success or failure of certification schemes. We use a combination of qualitative and quantitative research, comparing small-scale coffee producers in northern Nicaragua who are organized in conventional, organic, and organic-fairtrade certified cooperatives. Our results indicate that certification schemes have a low impact on poverty, including the aspect of food security. Reasons are seen in low yield levels, indebtedness, lack of entrepreneurial skills as well as cooperatives’ management capacities. We conclude that unfair trading conditions are not the main cause of poverty among smallholder coffee growers in Nicaragua. Thus, policies and projects need to address entrepreneurial skills of farmers and cooperative managers as well as amplify extension services.
  • [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.


Available from