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


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.

USFT Campaigns for Fair Trade at University of Houston

June 18, 2008

Posted by Chris O’Brien

My brother, Tim O’Brien, is at it again on campus at the University of Houston. He’s been waging a campaign to get the school to convert to fair trade ever since he started a chapter of United Students for Fair Trade there about two years ago.

USFT Universoty of Houston protest

Tim first tried the conventional channels – he got himself elected to the student government where he succeeded in passing a resolution calling for fair trade coffee on campus. Then he worked through the administration and the dining services company, Aramark, and managed to get some commitments and a minimum level of fair trade offerings made available on campus.

But these nominal successes were not enough – why accept a few token sides of chips and dip instead of going for the whole enchilada? So in recent months he’s taken the campaign to the next level by conducting attention-getting direct action events like the one he pulled off yesterday. He rallied a crew of about 20 students and delivered a giant papier mache coffee bean to University Chancellor Renu Khator’s office. Khator was out of the office but the police were called in anyway to hustle those pesky students away – and their giant coffee bean too!

Read the whole story in today’s Houston Chronicle.

The Grassroots take on NAFTA

June 17, 2008

By Chris Treter

We’re 14 years into NAFTA and many throughout the U.S. don’t know what the North American Free TradeManifestation at the Other Campaign in Chiapas, Mexico Agreement (NAFTA) is or have forgotten its’ significance. That isn’t true south of the border where the gap between the rich and poor continue to grow at an alarming rate.

Meanwhile, 2008 sees the governments of Canada, the United States, and Mexico working on the Security and Prosperity Partnership. However, from the looks of the advisory board which include the CEO of Walmart and 28 big businesses, security and prosperity for all in North American seem to be far from its objectives.

In multiple visits to Mexico in the past decade we’ve
been witnesses to the lasting negative impacts of neoliberal economic policies manifested within NAFTA. From increased migration in southern corn and coffee growing communities to diminishing mom and pop shops being replaced with big box stores, cultural assimilation is on the move and the grassroots are fighting back. Check out “Reclaiming Corn and Culture” in YES! Magazine by Wendy Call to learn more about the role coffee cooperative are playing to support community sustainability.

One less Political Prisoner in Oaxaca

March 7, 2008

By Chris Treter

https://i0.wp.com/www.asambleapopulardeoaxaca.com/appo/images/stories/davidvenegas.jpgAfter a year of incarceration, David Venegas has been released from the Santa Maria Ixcotel Penitentiary. On March 5th, within a coffee beans’ throw from the prison he was just released from he stated amongst a throng of human rights activists, friends and family that he “is ready to continue struggling for a Oaxaca full of liberty and justice.” While leading a fair trade tour across Mexico last year I had the honor of getting to know APPO and the family and friends of David. Below is an old blog entry I’ve dug up about the situation. Look it over and plug in por favor.


Oaxaca City has had a rough year. It all began in May of 2006 when thousands of teachers staged an annual sit – in on the city’s center to protest low wages and inadequate conditions in the schools of the state. The demands were not unfounded. According to Oaxaca based EDUCA, Oaxaca is the 2nd poorest state in Mexico (after Chiapas) with 76% of the population living in extreme poverty and only 2.9% of the state’s annual budget going to social programs in the country side.https://i1.wp.com/www.indybay.org/uploads/2008/03/02/ultimo-salga.jpg

After police violently attacked teachers on the 14th of June the townspeople, coffee farmers, activists, and campesinos came out in throngs to support the teachers from Section 22 of the CNTE teacher’s union. Barricades were set up to protect the teachers, roaming para- military police assassinated many and brutally attacked the struggling community as the democratic movement which became know as APPO – (Popular Assembly of the People’s of Oaxaca) – resisted and demanded the resignation of the state’s mayor Ulises Ruiz. Death threats, drive – by shootings, the continued closure of 14,000 schools and popular resistance became an everday reality as 50 blocks of downtown came screaching to an ungovernable standstill.

Months after the brutal police repression that left 23 dead, a slow creeping presence of undercover police vigilance and harassment remains in Oaxaca City. Most recently, April 14th saw 24 year old student activist David Venegas detained and beaten as police drove him for hours through the streets of this tourist city. Though he was snatched off the streets in midday while meeting with a school colleague, his family did not know he was “officially” in police custody until nearly 10 pm the same night. Eventhough family and friends pleaded for information of his detainment throughout the day. This week saw us meeting with the family and friends of David to learn about his incarceration. Police sure took notice!

As his family and friends (names withheld for security) told the story, undercover police peered in to the small cafe in downtown Oaxaca City where we had taken refuge. We were not surprised by the vigilance of the police as many in the city were afraid to meet with us fearing arrest or disappearance. Earlier in the day undercover police, with radio in hand, took pictures of our group as we waited outside to meet a friend. We had done nothing but simply listen to the testimony of his family and friends.

Family and friends painted a picture of David as a former student turned activist, working with the disenfranchised youth of the city while advocating justice for the crimes committed against members of APPO by police and paramilitary. They stated that his charges are ludicrous and unfounded. David was “officially” charged with possession of cocaine, although his friends told us he did not use drugs, deal drugs, or have any drugs found in his system. They state that the official photo released to newspapers show a beaten David with a large bag of cocaine held by someone behind him as he refused to touch the bag. In fact, they insisted, the first bag of cocaine they put in front of him was too big to even fit in the backpack he was carrying! Later, after the attempt by police to paint him as a street kid on drugs failed, they charged him with burning down a building that he was no where near and as such were no witnesses to place him within miles of the location.


There are still many wrongfully imprisoned in Oaxaca. The killers of American journalist Brad Wills have still not been brought to justice. The demands of APPO have not been met. Visit http://oaxacalibre.org/

Catholic Relief Services Economic Justice Consulation Report Back

March 7, 2008

By Jody Treter


I’m writing from the Baltimore airport, headed home from two days of meetings convened by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) to share ideas and get feedback from stakeholders about the next decade of CRS’s fair trade program. CRS Fair Trade logoThe added bonus of the trip was that I got to spend some time with my good buddy and fellow bean activist, Chris O’Brien, who also attended the first day of the meetings. CRS invited Chris to present on the difficult-to-tackle topic “Where is Responsible Consumption Headed?” and he wowed the meeting particpants with his comprehensive understanding of “green” purchasing (as many of you may know, Chris O head’s up the Responsible Purchasing Network). CRS prepped us for the visioning session with several other short presentations including the history of CRS and their FT program, a snapshot of the FT movement today and an argument for why it might be a good approach to open CRS’s FT program to more mainstream partners for greater market impact.

Among faith-based development organizations, CRS is a leader. It’s newly finished LEED-certified building is the first sign that, indeed, CRS is walking their talk. In the world of Fair Trade, CRS began it’s work with the Work of Human Hands craft project in 1995. In 2003, CRS launched it’s Fair Trade Program which became the umbrella for several other initiatives including the Work of Human Hands, plus the FT Coffee and Chocolate Programs. The Coffee Progam, an ambitious and forward-thinking partnership between marginlized farmers in Nicaragua and 100% fair trade coffee companies in the United States, is a new twist on interfaith coffee projects. While the Presbyterians, Lutherans and others have programs that partner exclusively with Equal Exchange, CRS boldly created the first “localized” program encouraging dioceses and parishes to support their nearest CRS Coffee Roasting Partner, of which there are twelve in the States. This model serves to “share the wealth” amongst several roasters plus it better leverages the FT movement.

Now four years into their FT program, CRS leaders are carrying out the due diligence necessary to create a well-informed blueprint for the next ten years. This is no easy task. The goal is clear – how does the CRS FT program serve the overarching CRS mission to alleviate suffering and create dignified livelihoods for the poorest of the poor? Our contribution, as stakeholders of the CRS Fair Trade, is to assist in the creation of long-term strategies to this end.

CRS offered three ideas to help generate conversation around strategies for the future:

  1. Revisit the strict adherence to the Gold Standard for Partners (ie – can CRS’s impact be greater if it broadens it’s partnership criteria?). The small working group I joined focused on this issue and offered up a hybrid solution. First, it’s important to maintain (and even actively improve) the Gold Standard of Fair Trade (often referred to as the 100%ers or Alternative Trade Organizations b/c their business models are fully committed to the principles of fair trade). The partners who meet “Gold Standard” criteria should be distinguished from others as the preferential partners. But, when these partners can’t meet the need of a potential customer (ie – a large institution wants to purchase individual pods for coffee makers), CRS directs the customers to “silver” level partners and, finally, “bronze” level partners. The discussions were much richer but this is the core of our group’s proposal.
  2. Shifting from a “product” focus to “points of engagements”. My opinion is that the CRS FT message will have the greated impace if both a “product” focus plus a “points of engagement” strategy are employed. For example, CRS may choose to sponsor an up-and-coming Skateboarder to engage Youth on their own turf – a point of engagement – but, when a church calls to ask about where to purchase office supplies or coffee or chocolate, CRS should remain an authority (termed “trust provider”) by offering a list of products from their program partners.
  3. From advertising to advocacy: Economic Justice beyond consumption. This piece wasn’t taken on by a working group because meeting attendees felt like this issue would be covered under the other two topics. Economic Justice is the over-riding theme of the CRS FT program and should continue to be so. In the end, Fair Trade is just one tool in the greater struggle for dignity and sustainability within economic justice. So, perhaps, the CRS FT program should consider changing their name to the CRS “Economic Justice Program” and create a more comprehensive approach that includes 1. the promotion of authentic “gold standard” fair trade partners; 2. engaging companies that are slowly coming into the fold of fair trade and economic justice; 3. identifying and pursuing points of engagements for CRS constituents.

Kudos to CRS FT for lining up an impressive roster of movers and shakers for the visioning session! I’ve been impressed time and time again with CRS’s commitment to the involvement of their stakeholders and the time they take to nurture relationships. Representing the Fair Trade movement was Carmen Iezzi, ED of the Fair Trade Federation; Serena Sato of SERVV; Kimberly Easson of TransFair USA; Joe Falcone of Counter Sourcing Fair Trade Apparel; Allen Thayer of Handcrafting Justice/Fair Trade Uniforms. Rick Peyser joined from Green Mountain Roasters and many CRS staff/volunteers from several different departments attended including Abby Causey, a CRS FT ambassador from Virginia Beach; Lara Puglielli, who was instrumental in the birth of the CRS fair trade coffee program in Nicaragua; Chuck Paquette, Foundation and Corporate Relations at CRS; Barbara Myers, Senior Director of US Operations; Sarah Ford, Senior Technical Advisor for Partnerships; Shaun Ferris, Technical Advisor on Agro-Enterprise; Brian Backe, Director of Domestic Programs Support Unit; Juan Molina, CRS-US Southwest; Thomas Awiapo, CRS-Ghana; and last but not least were the tireless CRS Fair Trade Champions, Jackie DeCarlo and Katy Cantrell.

Thanks much for the provocative discussions and good humor! That’s all for now . . . need to catch my plane.