< class="date">October 22, 2006
Dean’s Beans, a coffee company in the rolling woods of Orange, north of the Quabbin Reservoir, comes across like a hyperactive little international development organization: The company shares profits with farmers and funds reforestation initiatives, health programs, and women’s loan projects from Nicaragua to Ethiopia. Its 10 employees enjoy profit sharing and full retirement plans and the company contributes to programs for the disabled and the homeless across the state.
But first and foremost, Dean’s Beans sells only coffee that has been bought directly from family farmers according to internationally-recognized “fair trade” practices.
The fair trade concept, which originated among European importers in the 1970s, is straightforward: Rather than using their superior bargaining position to drive prices as low as possible, coffee buyers from wealthy countries establish trading relationships with suppliers in developing countries that advance the needs of both. It’s an explicit acknowledgement that there’s something wrong with pitting impoverished Third World farmers against one another–growers in Vietnam, for example, versus growers in Guatemala–to shave a few pennies from a pound of coffee.