Wake up and smell the (fairtrade) coffee

This is another one from my ethical living blog.  Hope you enjoy.

Ah, coffee.
What would the world be without you?
OK scrap that: what would my world be without coffee? A dark and terrible place, I’m telling you. The working day would probably pass in a sleep-induced haze (either that or I would lose my mind in a fit of withdrawal symptoms).
But what about the world outside my rather limited, caffeine-driven one? How does coffee affect it? You might not think it is very important in the scheme of things.
The fact is that coffee is extremely important – and every time you buy a jar, you are making a decision that could affect millions of vulnerable and marginalised farmers across the world.
How does coffee affect people?
The fact is, traditional coffee trading is deeply unfair.
OK, I know most of us realise this – but how many of us really think about it? Really?
For products that are not fairly traded, there are no standards in place. When you buy such a product, you may be paying for:
– child labour
– sweatshops
– unfair and unstable wages
– exploitation
– damage to the environment
– and a whole lot more.
How many of us want to pay for those things? Not me.
Since 2001, the World Trade Organisation has been holding discussions about how to change the world trade system to benefit the poor. But countries such as mine (the UK), other EU countries and the US (among others) have resisted these changes. This means the growth of the fair trade movement is critical.
So why fair trade?
When you buy a fair trade product, the producer receives not only a fair and stable price, but in many cases a premium to invest in their community. This could go on anything from schools, food, tools, technology, water wells, healthcare and a whole lot more. The fair trade logo also gives a guarantee that social standards are in place, and that coffee production does not adversely affect the environment. It also guarantees producers have not been exploited, and no child labour has been used.
How do you know if a product is fair trade?
Many fair-trade products carry the international Fairtrade Mark, which looks like this:

It is awarded by the Fairtrade Labelling Organisations. Look for it next time you shop. Many fair trade products are the same price, or a little more expensive, than non-fair trade products. Those extra few pennies could make a world of difference.
And trust me – as a coffee fanatic, fair trade coffee tastes every bit as good as the unfairly traded equivalent. Examples of major fair trade brands include:
– Clipper
– Percol
– Cafedirect
– Traidcraft
– Equal Exchange

Most supermarkets stock their own fair-trade coffee, and some supermarkets (for example The Co-Operative and M&S) have the fair-trade logo on their entire stock of own label coffee. Other brands, such as Nescafe, also produce a fair-trade range.
In ’50 Reasons to Buy Fair Trade’ (which you can buy here…
http://www.amazon.co.uk/50-Reasons-Buy-Fair-Trade/dp/074532584X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1279536908&sr=8-1  I do not get any commission for a sale)
… Nicaraguan coffee grower Blanca Rosa Molina is quoted as saying that fair-trade ‘makes the difference between whether my family eats or does not eat.’
For the sake of a simple choice in the supermarket, what reason is there not to buy fair trade?
ARE there any reasons not to buy fair trade?
The fair trade system has received criticism from both ends of the spectrum. Some say that it is an artificial system which impedes growth and could lead to over production, and at the other end, others claim it does not go far enough in protecting vulnerable workers.
My thinking is: the fair trade system is not perfect (nothing ever is), but a world without it, would be a world that accepts brutal and unfair conditions. Just so we can have a cup of coffee in the morning.
I don’t want to be part of a world like that. Who would?
Martin Luther King is credited with saying:
‘When we arise in the morning… at the table we drink coffee which is provided for us by a South American, or tea by a Chinese, or cocoa by a West African; before we leave for our jobs we are already beholden to half the world.’
We are beholden to half the world. I truly believe we are forever indebted to the poor of the world; it is the unfair balancing of the trading system which means we in the west can live the luxurious lifestyles we do.
So next time you’re in the supermarket – take a minute to browse the shelves, take a minute to consider where your coffee is coming from, and who you could benefit with your choice.
It could be the most important thing you do all day.

Why free range eggs are not as ethical as you think

This is another one from my ethical living blog.  Hope you like it!

photo credit: Steve A Johnson

Let me begin by saying that free range eggs are much, much better than battery eggs.

This is something we all know – and most people who care about ethics opt for the free range option every time.  Battery hens  are crammed into a miserable existence, unable to raise even a single wing; in contrast, free range hens are allowed at least some movement and outside access.

But is the free range option actually more damaging to chickens,the environment and the animal rights movement in general?

Or would it be better to avoid eggs altogether?

Here are a few facts

1. Free range hens are usually kept in cramped, indoor conditions.  The only legal requirement is that they have some access to the outdoors.  However, this often means a few holes cut in the walls,through which only a handful of chickens will ever go.  This ‘outside’ area is often a tiny patch of bare earth.

2. Free range hens undergo painful and inhumane procedures – including being ‘debeaked’, which involves having the ends of their beaks cut off without anaesthetic.

3. For every free range hen born, a male chick is born.  As male chicks are unable to lay eggs they are usually killed soon after birth by a range of methods including gassing, strangulation, crushing or live shredding.  Those that are not killed are raised for meat, with none of the benefits that free range hens enjoy.

4. Free range hens are killed as soon as their egg-laying starts to wane – usually after about twelve months (their natural lifespan could be six-seven years).  This involves a long trip to a slaughterhouse without food or water, where they are killed using the same methods as non-free range hens.

5. While free range hens undoubtedly live in better conditions than battery hens, the existence of free range hens gives a’conscience soother’ to those people who would otherwise avoid eggs.  Therefore, like many other ethical ‘tickets’, such as carbon offsetting, it is diverting attention away from the real problem which is: the egg industry is cruel, no matter how it is carried out.

6. All eggs, free range or otherwise, are packed full of cholesterol.

7. Free range eggs still damage the environment – in fact more so, as more land and energy are required.  The meat industry is extremely damaging to the environment- more so than the world’s entire transport system including aviation.

8. Free range labels provide a smoke screen for farmers who actually engage in cruel activities.  An image is projected of happy, natural hens roaming the land, and ethically concerned consumers are deceived into believing they are making the humane choice.  If these labels did not exist, these same ethically concerned consumers would probably avoid buying eggs altogether.

Obviously, if you are going to buy eggs at all, free range eggs are the preferable option.  But if the demand for eggs remains so high, then supply has to match it – and the only way to ensure adequate supply is by cramming as many hens as possible into as small a space as possible.

Demand has to drop in order for supplies to drop – which is the only way to ensure hens are not subjected to horrific cruelty.

So next time you’re shopping, why not consider avoiding eggs, free-range or otherwise?

photo credit: nutmeg66