Certification Confusion Hurts Consumers and Producers

ACORN International

San Pedro Sula  Meeting with our organizers in Honduras and Mexico, we once again found ourselves struggling with the problems of certification claims for coffee and other products.  The globally certifier for fair trade coffee, the Fair Licensing Organization (FLO) is based in Bonn, Germany, but everyone and their cousin is now certifying coffee as “fair trade” or organic.  The problem faces us as we debated the costs of running a coffee operation in a new building being opened at the university in San Pedro Sula that would finance the organizing in Honduras.

We have numerous partner cooperative fair trade coffee producers in Honduras.   Our old friends with COMUCAP in Marcala near the Salvadorian border greeted us on this visit.  We have other friends nearer to Tegucigalpa who also produce excellent, FLO certified coffee.  We are committed to serving Honduran coffee in Honduras, but at $0.35 to $0.75 per cup for students, our organizers and the Fair Grinds manager wondered how we could stand out if there was no real understanding in the local market of the value of fair trade and organic coffee?  The local market is used to drinking the worst coffee beans produced in Honduras, and here we are talking about an operation that wants to serve the best and still compete.   Yikes!

We also have producer members now around San Pedro Sula growing plantains, yucca, and other stuff that are desperate for higher prices but can’t be economically exported at their small scale. Our coffeehouse here, assuming we can get it up and running, would want to compete by going “all local,” so this would help, but we would hardly be able to pay more.  Sigh.

Reading the US papers on-line I was heartened to read of a filing before the US Federal Trade Commission by Forest Ethics and others claiming the industry was false marketing paper as certified when it seemed they were self-certifying.  Everyone would love to be able to “say” they were great, certified, organic, and so forth, and get away with it.  And, in fact Starbucks self-certifies and gets away with it.  There are now splits on coffee with Rainforest Action, the former US branch of FLO, and FLO itself all issuing certifications.

We have to have consumers throughout the world care that the producers are getting a fair wage, working cooperatively, and delivering a great product, but on the street corner level there is almost no way for us as vendors to carry the weight of consumer education if big operations have a self-interest in confusion and self-certification for their own profits.

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