a Capitol Bean
MUCH are coffee farmers getting from that three-dollar
latte? The global price of coffee has plunged nearly 50 percent
in the last three years, in turn plunging some 25 million
small-scale coffee producers in poverty, according to hunger
relief organization OxFam America. Meanwhile the retail market
has nearly doubled, from $30 billion to $55 billion, as coffee
giants like Kraft and Nestle rake in record profits.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Subcommittee
on Foreign Operations, noticed that the U.S. wasn't getting
its money's worth either -- that the crash in coffee prices
was undermining the efficacy of development aid to coffee-dependent
Latin American economies. Leahy has co-sponsored a referendum
calling on the U.S. to work with the coffee industry and local
producers to develop a long-term global strategy. The House
and Senate both passed versions of the referendum this November.
Leahy also helped broker a partnership between USAID and Vermont-based
Green Mountain Coffee Roasters to expand Fair Trade business
practices around the world. To be Fair Trade-certified, a
coffee importer must pay coffee farmers a minimum price of
$1.21 per pound, as opposed to mere 20 to 30 cents a pound
the farmers generally receive.
In the new session, Sen. Leahy plans to work on other ideas
ranging from "the difficult to the doable," according
to an aide. They include convincing federal offices and coffee
companies to buy fair trade products, reducing the supply
of cheap, low-quality coffee on the market, and pressuring
the administration into rejoining the International Coffee
Organization. Several senators have already contacted Leahy's
office wanting to get involved in the issue.
In the meantime we'll see if our Senators will put their lunch
money where their mouth is. As of the next session, Fair Trade-certified
coffee will be sold in Senate cafeterias and coffee shops
alongside the conventional coffee usually served. Offering
fair trade coffee in the Capitol may be a small step, but
it reminds our humble servants on the Hill that our everyday
choices do make a difference in the world, one cup at a time.
How to help
-- Learn more about the coffee crunch so you can educate others.
Call (800) 776-9326 for Oxfam's report, ''Mugged: Poverty
in Your Coffee Cup.''
-- Buy Fair Trade coffee. If your local supermarket doesn't
carry it, talk to the manager about ordering it. You can also
order it on-line at www.globalexchange.org.
-- Demand that Folgers and other large coffee companies start
offering Fair Trade products. You can send a free fax from
the San Francisco-based organization Global Exchange (see
-- Organize a Fair Trade campaign in your community. At www.globalexchange.org,
you can download a "Coffee Action Pack" and access
a national database of activists coordinating local campaigns.
-- Call your senators at (202) 224-3121 and ask them to support
Leahy's efforts and co-sponsor any future legislation encouraging
fair trade business.