Tuesday evening in the Athaenaum Food Truth hosted the 2nd annual panel of four speakers entitled “Fair Trade in the Global Food Economy.”
Food Truth is a student-run organization “dedicated to raising food consciousness by examining the environmental, political, social and ethical impacts of what we eat.”
The four speakers on the panel were Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin, executive director of Latin Enterprise Center, Lee Wallace, current CEO of Peace Coffee, Erik Esse, director of Local Fair Trade Network, and Mike Hemesath, Professor of Economics and Chair of the Economics Department at Carleton.
The panel began with each participant giving a brief description of their background in and perspective toward Fair Trade.
Haslett-Marroquin was born and has lived in Guatemala. He first became interested in Fair Trade as a worker in there. He says, “Fair Trade to us was like a life line.” He says that these early years in Guatemala “gave me a different perspective for the authority with which I speak on work conditions.”
For Haslett-Marroquin there were two sides to Fair Trade “producers being taken advantage of by the global economy or the employed working for a large company that cares nothing for you.”
Coming to American Haslett-Marroquin had misconstrued notions of what the U.S. would be like “[Common images of America all] come from T.V. so I came here believing I wouldn’t find the same problems and could live the American dream.” But instead he discovered, that [the problem with equity in Fair Trade] is a global situation.”
Wallace presented her background next. “Peace Coffee is a 100% Fair Trade coffee company based in Minnesota [founded in 1996]…. Peace Coffee views itself as a local or region coffee company…this includes the countries we buy from…much of our time is spent there.”
“What Peace Coffee does goes far beyond trade it is development work,” said Wallace.
Esse became involved in the worker co-op movement and eventually became part of his own food co-op. He is the director of Local Fair Trade Network (LFTN), which is based on Minnesota. He says of Fair Trade, “In order to have fair trade we would need fair trade on a local level everywhere first.”
Finally Hemesath said, “I’m an economist that’s the perspective I take on Fair Trade.”
The panel was asked to discuss their views of Fair Trade’s potential, it’s future, as well as its standing now.
Haslett-Marroquin said, “Fair Trade is functioning really well in the world today. It is a well organized, social movement but it is market based.” He also pointed out that Fair Trade has had a 48% increase in sales since its foundation, which is only a small portion compared to all economic transaction, but that “Fair Trade provides the largest returns on investment in terms of benefits for people around the world…the growth is still largely untapped.”
Wallace largely agreed that Fair Trade has great potential but also said, “because of recent volatility of the market there are new rules for commodities….it is a market that we don’t really understand.”
Esse pointed out that Fair Trade has become a societal trend, which is where its future might lie.
“Starbucks is to double its Fair Trade purchases. They are doing that because of consumer demand for ethical goods…Smart corporations are those that can link social good to services, this is the new trend.”
Hemesath presented the economists perspective. “The goal behind Fair Trade is to raise the return to the producers of goods. To pay farmers more than what they would get in the regular market. This means consumers pay a higher price. The question is how high is the difference in price? And what percentage of consumers are willing to pay that higher price? The Fair Trade movement depends on this [having a percentage of consumers willing to pay a higher price for Fair Trade goods].”
“If consumers are not willing to pay the Fair Trade price, as the price goes up the demand for producers goes down and Fair Trade’s future is hurt,” said Hemesath.
Hemesath and Wallce then discussed particulars of Peace Coffee. Hemesath said, “Peace Coffee is not publically owned its owners are forgoing profit for ethical reasons whereas Starbucks has responsibility to its shareholders to maximize profit.”
“Consumers choosing to buy Peace Coffee agree with Peace Coffee’s objectives but it means [consumers sacrifice the right] of choosing where that money should go [that is instead of buying regular coffee and putting aside a certain amount of money to donate as you choose you are donating through you purchase].”
Haslett-Marroquin responded to Hemesath saying, “In conventional economics we miss people’s values….People are changing their behavior based on these values and economics cannot take account of this.”
Esse provided a different view. “Fair Trade is about transparency and education, not jut a market process although it leads to market change.”
“We have knowledge of Fair Trade but the U.S. government continues to give billions of dollars to farm subsidies….[In a way] the government is subsidizing obesity because unhealthy products are cheaper, e.g. the fast food industry.”
Hemesath responded saying, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the better. A bad job is better than no job. [Unhealthy food is better than no food.]… The luxury of local or organic food is for rich people. Poor people’s ability to buy food because of government action should not be offhandedly dismissed. Cheap food is one good way to make people’s lives better.”
The panel provided an opportunity to present different perspective towards Fair Trade and allowed students to ask questions regarding Fair Trade as it stands today and as the panelists see it in the future. For more information about Fair Trade or the panel contact Food Truth Members.
For more information about Peace Coffee visit it online at: http://www.peacecoffee.com/pcfg/0711/index.html
For more information about Local Fair Trade Network visit it at:
For more information about Latino Enterprise Center visit: http://www.mainstreetproject.org/programs/rural_enterprise_center.html.
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