Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Coffee Conundrums: Fair and Free?

In the midst of Fair Trade Fortnight 08, Bonita Silva investigates the Australian Fair Trade movement, its critiques, and whether free trade can work together to provide a sustainable outcome.

Cameron Neil, the Certification and Labelling Manager for Fairtrade Labelling Australia and New Zealand, believes Fair Trade is an alternative way of doing trade and business, and that the producer and consumer can both win.

In response to criticisms coinciding with Fair Trade Fortnight 07, Neil says “Free trade and fair trade can go hand in hand, [but] our point is that your focus on free trade and the abstraction that is free trade, disguises the fact that people are living in poverty, being disadvantaged and being screwed over right now, today.”

However the reason why international coffee prices is so low is due to extensive overproduction in world coffee supply. Fair Trade only exacerbates the issue, as contended by the Director of IP and Free Trade, Tim Wilson at the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA). He suggests the best method of raising prices in everyone’s interest, is the consolidation of farms through free market.

Oxfam Australia disputes this notion, for “whether or not Fair Trade can be applied in the mainstream, the lack of alternatives and the absence of government safety nets for poor producers make this sort of support to farmers an entirely justifiable and appropriate attempt to cope with the human cost of the rigors of the free market,” says a spokesperson.

As part of Fair Trade Fortnight, the Fair Trade Association’s major nationwide event is the ‘coffee break’, where groups host a morning tea to raise awareness of fair trade related issues.

Republica, a wholly fair trade branded coffee is being stocked in Woolworths and Coles as of this year. Jacqueline Arias cited three reasons serving as inspiration in creating ‘Republica’: her love of coffee, her birthplace of Columbia, and a passion to do something ethical.

“It’s equally important to people who live in third world countries, particularly those that are not protected by any government or any sort of social forces, to be paid fairly,” she says.

Though can fair trade and free trade essentially collaborate to bring about an effective international trade mechanism?

“We’re interested in genuine honest dialogue on fair trade, and that’s been one of our core frustrations, in that any sort of disagreement has been taken solely as the basis of outwright criticism,” says Mr Wilson of IPA.

Supporters of fair trade like Mr Neil believe a lot of critics “tend to bring in elements of things that are true and then distort them from there… make huge leaps of logic and reasoning to conclusions that are very, very questionable. I think they are creating artificial differences.”

The free trade model assumes there are level playing fields, and Mr Neil says this simply doesn’t exist.

In response to criticisms, Oxfam’s spokesperson noted that “despite its success, it will be impossible for Fair Trade alone to provide a solution to the crisis because of the persisting imbalance between supply and demand.”

Republica’s founder believes the fair trade movement has made progression since she first began her coffee venture three years ago, but says we’ve got a long way to go. During its conception, no one knew what fair trade was or what it entailed, whereas now there is a slightly higher recognition and vague understanding of its principles.

“Possibly 85% of Australians still don’t know what fair trade is, so there is a huge, massive education process yet to be embarked upon,” she says.

The Fair Trade Association doesn’t dissuade groups from being critical. As Mr Neil says, “we agree that there are things that need to be improved, it’s a dynamic system and things are changing and evolving all the time.”

Photo: Crsfairtrade's Flickrstream


Kester said...

hehe how ironic an article involving coffee written by a short black =P im an so awesomely funny people will read this and laugh in their chairs. hehee well written though babe. haha very impressed yet again =D

Annette Lin said...

LOL at Kester's comment :P

Anyway awesome article Bonita, I'm flabbergasted at how you manage to do all this!! Good stuff :)

Stephanie Kok said...

You continue to amaze
so much dedication!

and here I am posting pictures of people =P

job well done, yet again!

Annette Lin said...

Don't worry Steph, at least your pictures are of something intellectual :S hahaha

Bonita Silva said...

thanks guys :)
there is a reason i'm failing uni afterall...
i decided to get a little more serious about journalism and now i'm failing at life in general :P

Amy said...

This is very impressive Bonnie!
Question! Did you actually go out and interview people?! for this 'just for fun i think i'll write a indepth news article' piece.

Neways, I would very much like to be a contribute to this blog! Im doing journalism too guys! pick me pick me! I wouldn't mind seeing my face next to your glorious faces :) but i understand if there is only room for three.

I will check here regularly! nice work guys!! Very proud of you.