June 4, 2012

Coffee and Ethics


Everyone who knows me knows I love coffee. I love an espresso with real nice orange crema. It's no wonder I'm a barista at a coffee shop! It's a great student job, and I get free coffee!

But my student job is not what I want to write about. I want to write about ethics and coffee.

Canada is a democracy: every four years, citizens vote for the party they want to see in power.

As individual consumers, we have a similar power. Every time we make a purchase, we make the decision to favour a product or a brand over another product or brand. Remember supply and demand?

Our daily choices influence what is on the market. Different types of consumers are looking for different types of products: some want the highest quality, some are looking for the cheapest product and some are looking for a middle ground.

In North America, coffee is a beloved product. Here in Canada, coffee grain is even tax-free because it is considered an ''essential good.'' Some couldn't get through the day without their morning coffee at work while some others prefer to sip an espresso macchiato while reading a book in a café on a rainy thursday afternoon.

I don't know whether you are aware of it, but the coffee you buy at the grocery store or at your favourite coffee shop makes a huge difference in the lives of thousands of people living thousands of miles away from you.

In many African and South American countries, coffee producers are being exploited. Many of them do a lot of physical work and hard labour, only to get miserable wages.

When I was in Costa Rica 4 years ago, I lived with a family who owned a coffee plantation. Far from being wealthy, they lived in a tiny house and had a very simple, frugal lifestyle. The thing is, their coffee is bought at a very cheap price by big companies who then sell it at a way higher price to European and North American coffee companies.

In other countries, the State is sometimes the only authorized buyer, and sets the price of coffee. The government can then buy the grain from the peasants, only to make loads of money by selling it to coffee multinationals.

I don't want to write about this forever, so here's the point: buying fair trade coffee is important. Otherwise, chances are the coffee producers were not paid a fair price for their work and their product.  Coffee is not produced in factories: coffee is produced by plants and harvested by people, who toil and sweat.

The market share of fair trade coffee is still very low in many countries, but here's what we can do if we care about the quality of life and recognition of the hard work of coffee producers.
1. Buy fair trade coffee if you can afford it (only slightly more expensive than regular coffee, but it makes all the difference in the world. That extra money goes to the producer)
2. Ask for fair trade coffee at your favourite coffee shop. Many coffee shops offer at least one variety of fair trade coffee. (Second Cup, for example, offers the Cuzco, which has the fair-trade and organic certifications)
3. Get informed. Read this article by Fairtrade Canada.
4. Realise and appreciate the power you have to change things as a consumer! If the demand for fair trade coffee increases, the offer will increase as well!

Here's a cool video I found on youtube. It's about fair trade in general and, obviously, the power of the consumer. It's super short.

Fair Trade: The Power of the Consumer


  1. went through all your blogs...though the topics didn't interest me..your language is really good !


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