Monday, 19 March 2012


As this project comes to an end I just wanted to thank you all for reading my blog. I hope you have come away learning more then you did when you began this Fair Trade: Coffee Culture adventure with me. I know that I have emerged from this research project with a new knowledge on fair-trade. I’ll admit that I started off as one of those consumers who blindly bought coffee with the fair-trade certification label because I thought I would look like a better consumer, and in turn person. Now I know how I am helping make a difference, and I buy fair-trade certified coffee beans with a purposeful intent.
What makes this a relevant social movement is that we as members of current society are all part of it. We have the choice to buy the fair-trade certified or non-certified coffee beans. That choice is a simple step on the larger journey toward the goal of fair-trade!
Well, I am off to go brew a pot for myself now! Wishing you all the best. 

On Campus Action

After leaving my anthropology class today I entered the university’s business atrium to find a display promoting fair-trade. The table had a bunch of free gizmos and gadgets adorned with the fair trade Canada logo.  While I was at the table looking at the information provided I noticed that every student that walked by, while I was there, stopped if only for a minute to read the signs. This is a great example of how modern this movement is. The table at the university was promoting “The University of Alberta’s Ethical Purchasing Campaign focus[ing] on promoting the use of fair trade certified products by spreading student awareness and initiatives.” The pamphlets and info sheets provided a list of the places around campus where you can purchase fair trade certified products…including COFFEE.
World University Service Canada (WUSC) promoted the display. They have a web site, which you can visit and explore: 

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Video Clip- How to buy fair trade coffee

The following is another YouTube video I found that discusses where and how to find fair-trade certified coffee. The woman in the video is Anna Lappe. She co-wrote the book: Grub, Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen. It’s short and informative. Enjoy!

The Impact

Now that we have looked at the commercialization of fair-trade coffee it is time to turn back to look at the farmers them selves. One of the top coffee bean producing areas is Central America.  There are both benefits and limitations to fair-trade that impact everyone involved in fair-trade certification of coffee.
Sarah Lyon provides a nice table that helps summarize the impact of fair-trade. The table was created after data was gathered from “participant-observation at the Guatemalan National Coffee Association’s annual conference (2000, 2002) and visits to several fair-trade coffee cooperatives located in the Western Highlands (where informal interviews were conducted with cooperative administrators and board members.)” (Lyon 2007:102)

Table 1 from her report is shown below.
Courtesy of Sarah Lyon 2007

FLO is mentioned in the chart. For those of you who are unaware what this stands for (like me at the beginning of my research), it is the Fairtrade Labeling Organizations. They also have a website:

The relationship coffee companies have with their coffee farmers is one of great importance. In Central America it has been confirmed that the prices paid to the fair-trade certified producers, for their coffee, are helping sustain their rural communities. When the small local producing areas invest the incoming money from coffee production toward education and their land it can support effective, local development. (Lyon 2007: 105) The fair-trade relationship also considers the “highly volatile international coffee market” (Lyon 2007: 105) by rewarding the small producers with high prices. Lyon gives the example that  “when there is a frost in Brazil, prices historically rise dramatically” (Lyon 2007: 105)
Lyon’s statements about how fair-trade coffee relationships help create a sustainable living for the small producers go hand-in-hand with the findings of, fellow anthropologist, Christopher M. Bacon. In northern Nicaragua Bacon  “clearly demonstrated that households […] participating in certified [fair-trade coffee] markets are significantly less vulnerable to low coffee prices than members of cooperatives whose sales are directed exclusively into conventional marketing channels.” (Bacon…et. al 2008: 19); further showing the benefits of fair-trade in the coffee market.

Although the amount of fair-trade coffee producers is lower then it should be, it is most likely not as a result of the fair-trade coffee producers are fleeing from fair-trade relationships. Why flee when the benefits of fair-trade relationships seem to out way the limitations. Some of the limitations being the fact that the fair trade producers are not fully aware of the goals and requirements of fair-trade coffee certification. So that limitation could be one of the reasons why the numbers of small producers are lower then estimated; lack of communication between the companies buying the coffee and the local farmers.  With coffee in such a seemingly high demand in today’s metropolitan society this movement has grounds to really take off. With an increase in fair-trade coffee could possibly come the increase in long-term benefits to the producing countries like Guatemala, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Commercializing the ‘Commodity’

The fair trade coffee movement is a large and modern area of discussion. Drinking coffee in the morning is a natural part of many North American’s morning routines. Thus, making this social movement more prevalent to a larger part of today’s society. There are many techniques employed in the commercialization of coffee to target consumers. Companies are getting creative when it comes to marketing, because there is no way to tell for certain that ‘fair-trade coffee’ tastes better than its competitors. Marketing teams have to think about other ways of getting consumers to buy their fair-trade brand, ways that will grab attention of consumers. Coffee companies are now playing on the morality of consumers as social beings. For example, the Cooperative Coffees website states: “fair trade lets consumers be part of a social justice movement through a simple action.”(Cooperative Coffees 2006) By marketing to people that choosing fair-trade labeled coffee they are taking part in the social movement, and helping bring awareness to other companies, that are not yet fair-trade certified brands. The message being that if you want consumers you need to be involved in the fair-trade production of your coffee beans. Coffee producers/suppliers rely on consumption by consumers; so fair-trade movements aim themselves at the consumers to ‘make the right choice’ by choosing to purchase fair trade coffee.De Pelsmacker and his colleagues said, “Fair-trade buying is a specific type of ethical consumer behavior.” (De Pelsmacker…et. al 2005: 367)

Green Mountain Coffee provides another example of commercialization. At a promotional fair-trade coffee event for the company they gave out T-shirts that read: “Clean up your conscience! Drink Fair Trade Coffee.” The T-shirts also provided a set of “Conscience Cleaning Instructions: Step one, buy fair trade coffee; step two, drink and enjoy the taste of a better world; step three, repeat, early and often.” (Cooperative Coffees 2006)  “The claim being made here is that the more diligently we consume this product, the more moral people we will be—“(Fisher 2007:81-82)

Green Mountain Coffee

Green Mountain Coffee also has a video on their webpage ( called ‘The Heart of the Cup’ that gives a brief look at how their coffee is produced from the tree to the cup. This video can also been seen  below.

With the fast growing awareness in the past decade, or so, about the benefits of fair trade products to both the consumer and producers has also come a wave of protest by student groups on campuses who are attempting “to persuade fellow students and campus food services to purchase fair-trade products [.]” (Fisher 2007: 83) This all leads to one question: Do you buy fair-trade coffee because you believe in the cause, or because you want to be seen to believe in the cause? 

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Fair Trade Coffee Infographic

Here is a YouTube video I just watched. It was made by four students at the VFS (Vancouver Film School), Desiree Gilewich, Celia Chung, Shawn Hight and Simon Vieira. The video takes a positive opinion on fair trade in the world of coffee production. You can agree, disagree or be on the fence with the message, but I found it an interesting short clip. Enjoy.

Sunday, 11 March 2012


Hello readers and thank you for taking the time to stop and read my blog. This blog is an assignment for a university anthropology course. In this blog I plan to discuss a branch of the fair trade movement that involves coffee production, from the people working in the coffee plantations to the people commercialising it.  As I gain further knowledge in my research on the topic I will post interesting links, pictures and of course facts!

Before I get going, I think it is important for me to provide the definition of a social movement I used as my reference and starting point while developing my topic. A Social movement as defined in my class discussions is: a group or informal network of people who are linked by shared beliefs and solidarity. A second word I'd like to define for you is 'fair trade'. In the words of Sarah Lyon, "[f]air trade is a form of alternative trade that seeks to improve the position of disempowered producers through trade as a means of development." (Lyon 2007:100)

Image courtesy of Simon Bowers. The Guardian. November 4, 2010

Before I begin to share my findings and views, from my research on this fair trade social movement, I will post my list of references so that you too can immerse yourself in Fair Trade: Coffee Culture!

References Cited:

Bacon, Christopher M.; Méndez, V. Ernesto and Gliessman, Stephen R. et al
2008  Confronting the coffee crisis: fair trade, sustainable livelihoods and Ecosystems in Mexico and Central America. USA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

De Pelsmacker, Patrick; Driesen, Liesbeth and Rayp, Glenn
2005  Do Consumers Care about Ethics? Willingness to Pay for Fair-Trade    Coffee. Journal of Consumer Affairs 39(2): 363-385

Fischer, Kate
2011  Fair Trade and a Global Commodity: Coffee in Costa Rica. By Peter Luetchford. The Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology 16(1): 210-212

Fisher, Carolyn
2007  Selling Coffee, or Selling Out?: Evaluating Different Ways to Analyze the Fair-Trade System. Culture & Agriculture 29(2): 78-88

Fridell, Gavin
2007  Fair trade coffee: the prospects and pitfalls of market-driven social justice. Toronto: University of Toronto Press Incorporated

Lyon, Sarah
2007  Maya Coffee Farmers and Fair Trade: Assessing the Benefits and Limitation of Alternative Markets.

Lyon, Sarah
2010  Coffee and Community: Maya Farmers and Fair-Trade Markets. Colorado: University Press of Colorado

Lyon, Sarah and Moberg, Mark
2010  Fair trade and social justice: global ethnographies. New York: New York University Press

Taylor, Peter Leigh; Murray, Douglas L. and Raynolds, Laura T.
2005  Keeping trade fair: governance challenges in the fair trade coffee initiative. Sustainable Development 13(3): 199- 208

Weber, Jeremy
2007  Fair Trade Coffee Enthusiasts Should Confront Reality. Cato Journal 27(1): 109-117