The Green Footprint of Fairtrade Green Coffee Beans and the Port of New Orleans

The Port of New Orleans in the 19th Century

New Orleans     Consider these facts if you will:

From Wikipedia:   As the country’s major coffee-handling port, the Port of New Orleans has 14 warehouses covering over 51 hectares of storage space and six roasting facilities.

Coffee Handled Here. New Orleans is the nation’s premier coffee-handling port, with 14 warehouses, more than 5.5 million feet of storage space and six roasting facilities in a 20 mile radius. Two of the most modern bulk processing operations are located in New Orleans: Dupuy Storage and Forwarding Corp. (first in U.S.) and Silocaf of New Orleans, Inc. (world’s largest).   [Source:  Port of New Orleans]

Let’s discount the fact that the Port of New Orleans is probably involved in some boosterism, but there can be little doubt that New Orleans is one of the major, if not THE, major entry points for coffee coming from Latin America.  Ironically, whether in trying to buy fairtrade green coffee beans in New Orleans or trying to ship them directly from Honduras for example, we keep hearing these days of shipping routes to Newark and the Port of NY/NJ rather than on the shortest route to New Orleans from the eastern, Atlantic or Gulf Coasts of Latin America.  Talking to our roasters and sources for fairtrade green beans for Fair Grinds Coffeehouse as a 100% fairtrade shop in the city, we are constantly struggling to get our beans directly through the Port of New Orleans, rather than trucked in and warehoused in the city.  What’s up?!?

I heard a rumor that New York /New Jersey had offered tax incentives to divert coffee traffic after Katrina to move coffee out of New Orleans, but after spending hours on the Internet, I cannot yet confirm the truth of that information.  The facts though are that Katrina did ruin a lot of coffee and tea in area warehouses, and some have not returned more than seven (7) years later.

Sadly, and perhaps ironically as well, the leading fairtrade buyers have perhaps been the slowest to return, rather than the fastest.   The coffee buying cooperative composed of 22 of the biggest, leading fairtrade roasters all used to bring all of their coffee through the Port of New Orleans, but are only now debating a return.  These roasters include many of the best including Just Coffee in Madison, Café Campesino in Georgia, Bongo Java in Nashville, Third Coast in Austin, and Amavida in Florida, as well as a bunch of great roasters in all across Canada.

Seems like fairtrade social justice would include making sure that there is support for the City of New Orleans and its great, deepwater river port, as it recovers from Katrina, especially among the progressive forces in the rebuilding effort that continues unabated but with grave challenges even to this day.  Add to that the union jobs and living wages on the Port and in the warehouses and the arguments made by many, including COWS director, Professor Joel Rogers from the University of Wisconsin, that the Port should be the “economic driver for high road development” after the storm, and I would think this would be an easy decision rather than a lengthy debate.

We should be up to our elbows in fairtrade coffee beans in New Orleans, not on our knees begging for a bag here and a bag there.  What’s missing in this story?

Maybe it’s time for us to put our coffee cups down for a minute and start an organizing campaign, which is something we do understand!

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Who Wants to Bet that Walmart’s Bribery Policy Was Not in Play in India and China?

New Orleans  It still doesn’t mean that Walmart won’t walk away scot-free from its $24 million Mexican bribery scandal (and who knows how much more might have been spent in other countries like India?), but at least some directors may lose their soft perches and have their hands pried loose from the rubberstamps they have been holding for CEOs and others gone wild and rogue, given news that the California State Teachers’ Retirement System has sued in behalf of the company itself against the directors.  CalSTRS is one of the USA’s largest pension funds and owns a whooping $313 million in Walmart shares, which is nothing to sniff about.

These so-called “derivative” suits are often dog piles with other folks, big and small jumping in.  Hopefully, this means CalPERS, the other gargantuan state workers pension fund will be close behind along with other state funds that have large stakes in Walmart.  The business press has noted how rare it is for funds this size not to simply negotiate directly, and argue they must be mad as wet hens.  Damn, I hope so, because I certainly am.

The corporate culture over there has been bad, and now we are finding out how evil they really rolled.  We still have no indication that the “investigation” of their business practices goes past Mexico, but it needs to be company-wide.  At the same time Lee Scott was presiding over the company and allowing Eduardo Castro-Wright to run a criminal enterprise in Latin America, Michael Duke, the current CEO, was heading the whole international operations and flying in and out of India and China on a regular and routine basis in 2005 trying to break the opposition to modifying foreign direct investment in India and expand radically in China.

We now know that corruption at top government levels in both countries was epidemic.  Bribes of almost a billion dollars were paid to get cheap access to telecom licenses in India.  China is now in the middle of a huge political struggle that revolves around financial corruption and self-enrichment of top party and governmental officials and their families which is shaking the very foundations of the government.

Walmart’s communication spin since the Mexican bribes were surfaced by the Times has been essentially, “that’s the way they do business there.”  Someone please convince me that they are not laying the groundwork for the same “defense” in India and China, where, truth to tell, bribery and corruption are not also commonplace, as they are in much of the world.  To me this proves the corporate culture and expansion program is founded on bribery and corruption.  It is not other countries that are corrupting Walmart, but Walmart that is embracing the worst and most destructive practices if finds there.  Where a sewer runs, Walmart swims in splashing!

I’m taking bets that Walmart is as dirty, if not dirtier, in India and China.  Government officials in both countries need to start looking hard there.  ACORN International’s India FDI Watch Campaign will be calling on our parliamentary allies in India to launch such investigations there.  Shareholders, pension funds, and reporters here in the USA need to also join the call for more intensive, outside investigations of Walmart’s corrupt corporate culture and international operations immediately.

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