Think Outside the Bottle

September 7, 2008
Pledge to Break the Bottled Water Habit.

Pledge to Break the Bottled Water Habit.

Posted by Chris O’Brien

In the past decade, bottled water has become a convenience most Americans have come to take for granted. Homebrewers often use it in place of water from the tap. Likewise, coffee connoisseurs are reaching for the bottled stuff in attempts to brew great coffee at home.

Fact is, water is the biggest ingredient in both beer and coffee, so it makes sense to pay attention to its quality. But did you know that roughly half of bottled water is just tap water put in a bottle? And furthermore, that the health and safety regulations governing tap water are far more effective than those in place for bottled water – bottled water often is untested whereas there are free annual water quality reports available for all municipal tap water systems?

What’s more is that bottled water is an astounding 750-2,700 times more expensive than tap water.

Take a look at the new, free Responsible Purchasing Guide to Bottled Water Alternatives. Then take the Center for a New American Dream’s Pledge to Break the Bottled Water Habit.


Fair Trade Institute: Largest Online Library of Fair Trade Publications

August 18, 2008

Posted by Chris O’Brien.

Speaking as a researcher and writer, it is a great joy to find a resource as helpful as the Fair Trade Institute library of publications on fair trade. The count as of today was 268 entries. Each and every one is a book, article or another type of publication that addresses issues directly related to fair trade.

Each entry includes a brief summary of the publication, making it a veritable gold mine for researchers like me trying to save time and find the reference materials most salient to my topic. Major shout outs to the folks at the Fair Trade Institute and the Fair Trade Resource Network for collaborating and putting this site together.


Starbucks: Fair Trade or “Tradewash”?

August 1, 2008

Posted by Chris O’Brien

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) is telling consumers to turn up the heat on Starbucks and pressure them to take Fair Trade more seriously.

According to OCA, many customers mistakenly assume that all Starbucks coffee is fair traded, but in fact just 6% of the company’s coffee is certified Fair Trade.

OCA is asks consumer activists to take these steps:

1) Sign OCA’s 2008 petition to Starbucks demanding that all espresso drinks be both 100% certified Organic and Fair Trade.

2) Make a free call to Starbucks’ Customer Service line and let them know how you feel. (800) 235-2883. Click here for a sample script.

3) Sound off on My Starbucks Idea, Starbucks’ public forum. We have an idea for you Starbucks, its called Fair Trade!

4) Find a non-corporate café near you using the Delocator.

Is the “all Fair Trade espresso” demand impractical or too idealistic? Not really. Dunkin’ Donuts, the world’s largest coffee and baked goods retailer, already does just that. Even McDonald’s sells all Fair Trade coffee in their New England stores and in the U.K.

So what’s up Starbucks? Why not empower farmers by supporting a minimum price per pound and buying from democratic cooperatives?


Bean Activist Talks Fair Trade on KPFT

July 18, 2008
KPFT

KPFT

Tune in next Tuesday, Noon to 1pm Central time, to the Open Journal on Houston’s Pacifica radio affiliate KPFT when host Tim O’Brien (that’s my bro) interviews Chris O’Brien (that’s me) about responsible purchasing, fair trade, and sweatfree apparel.

Tim has been waging a fair trade coffee campaign and a sweatfree apparel campaign on campus at the University of Houston. See these previous posts about the campaing and check out the websites of UH Students Against Sweatshops and UH United Students for Fair Trade.


World Coffee Market – the Impact of Speculation

July 16, 2008
Understanding the intricacies of the world coffee market is no easy task. Throughout history, coffee farming families have been at the mercy of the world market prices, largely dictated by climatic issues, supply and demand and the ever-hungry profiteers who have long negotiated for prices that fatten their wallets. To understand how the conventional world market work, check out this piece from coffeeresearch.org.
      This year, the world coffee market saw more volatility than in years past due to increased speculation by  a new wave of traders. According to a recent article by Sam Kornell called ‘Commodity Speculation: Gambling with the futures of farming families’ in CoffeeTalk magazine,”Commodity speculation (including coffee) in the United States changed fundamentally . . due to a rather obscure piece of legislation written by Republican Senator Phil Gramm that substantially relaxed, and in many cases eliminated completey, federal regulation of futures trading in American commodity markets. Gramm essentially managed to turn American commodities markets into a kind of  financial Wild West”.
     From 1936 to 2000, the year when Gramm slipped the controversial legislation through by attaching it to a 11,000 page omnibus Senate appropriation bill, speculation in the commodities (sugar, cocoa, coffee) markets was limited to experienced investment firms whose trading practices were regulated by Congress. After 2000 world commodity markets were opened to the whims of day-traders and less experienced and unregulated investors.
     Couple this with last year’s purchase of the New York Board of Trade (NYBOT which housed the arabica coffee trading system in addition to cotton, sugar and other commodities) by the Intercontinental Commodities Exchange (ICE), a British electronic energy marketplace. Sam Kornell writes, “The sale of NYBOT to the ICE made it even easier for non-commercial investors to get in – in a big way – on the commodities futures action. For one thing, the ICE and other electronic markets are harder to regulate, and they make investment in commodities contracts relatively easy”.
     Add to this falling stock market prices and the devaluation of the US dollar and the result is a very tenuous situation for coffee farmers and buyers. While market prices have escalated tremendously – a good thing for farmers – the uncertainty of the future weighs heavily on the mind of our partners in the field. They’ve watched the cycles come and go and they worry that, while their cost of goods continue to sky-rocket, the market will once again bottom out as it does time and time again.
To read the full article Commodity Speculation: Gambling with the Futures of Farming Families by Sam Kornell in Coffee Talk click here: http://www.coffeetalk.com/images/CTJun08web.pdf

 
The next installment of this newsletter will include a piece about how Higher Grounds Trading (in conjunction with our importing co-op, Cooperative Coffees, is bucking the conventional trading system). We trade directly with our partner farmers, negotiating prices far above fair trade minimums via transparent and friendly conversations with our producer partners.  Suspenseful, I know . . .

 

 

 


600 Stars Bucked: Starbucks to Close 600 Stores

July 1, 2008

By Chris O’Brien

600 Stars Bucked

According to Bloomberg.com, Starbucks will close 600 stores within the next nine months and eliminate 12,000 jobs. For some perspective, that’s about 7% of its global workforce. At the end of March 2008, the company boasted 16,226 stores -just over halfway to CEO Howard Schultz’ stated goal of 30,000 outlets.

The company says most of the stores slated for shuddering are near other Starbucks locations. So, maybe opening two or three Starbucks on a block isn’t such a great business plan after all? Or is it actually a very sly strategy designed to bully smaller competitors out of business?

Starbucks Chief Financial Officer Peter Bocian admits that the stores targeted for closure were cannibalizing 25-30% of the sales of other nearby locations. But here’s the kicker. Starbucks stocks rose 4.5% immediately after the announcement.

Follow the logic here. Starbucks opens stores that it can’t afford and then closes them and gets a boost on Wall Street. Meanwhile, local competitors are put out of business while Starbucks carries the unprofitable stores. Once competitors are closed, Starbucks closes its redundant stores. That leaves the other one or two nearby Starbucks perfectly positioned to not just regain the customers from the other Starbucks but also to gain all the customers from the closed down competitor.

Maybe I’m just paranoid. Or maybe a company aiming for 30,000 stores is a beast that someone needs to slay.


Corporate Coffee Responsibility Ratings

June 25, 2008

Posted by Chris O’Brien

Co-op America (my former employer of nearly seven years) runs a program called Responsible Shopper that provides corporate social responsibility news and ratings about companies and whole industries. Here are their comparative ratings of the biggest coffee companies.

Co-op America\'s Resposnible Shopper Coffee Scores

Notice in the small print that the color scheme ranges from green to yellow to orange to red in descending order of ‘responsibleness.’ Now notice that none of the biggest companies in the coffee industry earn a yellow score or better. Kraft and Starbucks fall in the orange sector while Sara Lee, Proctor and Gamble, and Nestle all deserve the red zone of corporate malfeasance.

Co-op America’s conclusion for how to be a ‘Responsible Shopper?’ Buy fair trade, organic, shade grown coffee.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.