Why Not Coffeehouses in Latin America to Support Cooperatives and Organizing

Why not ACORN International / Fair Grinds Coffeehouses" in large Latin American cities?

Miami              The more we talked to coffee producer cooperatives in the Marcala and San Juancito mountains of Honduras and tried to piece together a plan to directly trade coffee to the USA and Canada and especially our own Fair Grinds Coffeehouse in New Orleans and its monthly support of our offices in Central America, the more it seemed a natural to think about opening our own small mini-coffeehouses in places like Tegucigalpa and perhaps Lima, Buenos Aires, and Mexico City.  The notion would be to open café cooperativas for ACORN & Fair Grinds that would only serve coffee and other products directly obtained from cooperatives operating in the home country.  The proposition would to reverse fair trade into the home countries and keep the “buy local,” “buy organic,” and “buy fair trade” right there rather than something that happens in rich, developed countries.

Would it work?  Could “coffee cooperatives” work and compete, especially with the local market?  Not sure about that.  Ironically in places like Honduras where great coffee is grown the local market, like so many places is driven by price.  A lot of what is sold in places like Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula is coffee beans cut with a variety of other substances to lower the costs.

But, we don’t have to compete with Starbucks, just duplicate the “mission-driven” ACORN International / Fair Grinds model sufficiently to pay the coffeehouse bills, support the cooperatives by opening up a better market, and do well enough to support the local organizing with a local self-sufficiency plan.  Why not?  Could work!

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Caveat Emptor / Buyers Beware the Fair Trade Mess

New Orleans               Part of the global dispute that ACORN International highlighted in our recently released report, “Unfair Fairtrade” www.acorninternational.org, burst into the business section of the Times in a weird piece of Thanksgiving celebration.  The issue engaged most directly continued to be the rouge retreat of Fair Trade USA and its chief, Paul Rice, from any pretense of real support for producers to what can only be correctly described as a corporate convenience and branding operation for large companies and their sources.  There can be little doubt that Rice and the US operation are on the wrong side of this dispute and are leading a wholesale assault on any notion of fair trade principles, despite the fact that from our research and report there can be little doubt that some of his criticisms of the Fairtrade International (FLO) and its certification program are also correct.

The terrible truth is that both competing business models are perhaps fatally flawed endangering the survival of the fair trade movement and real values at all.  The slim hope raised at the end of the William Neuman might be found by grasping the straw held out by Seth Goldman of Honest Tea (owned by Coca Cola) who is debating whether to sell certified products from Fair Trade USA or Fairtrade International when he “called the dispute a mess, but added, ‘Opening up a can of worms gives a chance to understand what’s in the can.’”  Perhaps hard looks would force needed change in FLO as well, because right now these continued contradictions are mainly hurting the intended beneficiaries, the producers, while treating the consumers almost as shabbily by abusing their good graces and picking their pockets often without any benefit to producers in the fields.  Continue reading

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