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Organic and fair trade coffee in Chiapas

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  1. Introduction
  2. The power and marketing of quality
  3. The danger and promise of growth
  4. Ruiz's interview
  5. The production and politics of knowledge
  6. Labor and social capital
  7. Conclusion
  8. Works cited

Though I have never been a coffee-drinker, the ideological and symbolic weight of coffee has not escaped me. With caffeine for the office worker and flavor for the distinguished upper-class palate, coffee's appeal stretches across many socioeconomic categories and occupies a unique register of social and professional life. And yet, as with most commodities, I find myself on the consumption side of the chain. A privileged position, to be sure, since the production of coffee has long been associated with labor exploitation, environmental damage, and human rights abuses. This widely publicized ?underside? of coffee production, which has lead to the emergence of fair trade and organic labels for coffee, now leads me to ask about the viability of labeled coffee in the wake of the ongoing Zapatista struggle for indigenous rights in Chiapas, Mexico.

[...] Furthermore, Starbucks obligates producers to sell their coffee through Starbucks-affiliated importers which, in this case, turns out to be the largest Mexican coffee marketing corporation, AMSA (of the Omnicafe-Atlantic Coffee group), which engages in decidedly non-equitable commercial practices.[9] It is easy to forget that with the entry of a major international corporation into fair trade networks, relations between campesinos, small buyers, and certifying organizations change dramatically. The promise of greater demand for this coffee, then, is matched by the danger of losing sight of the founding principals of equitable, personal relationships between buyers and sellers. [...]


[...] University of California, Berkeley. Murphy, Ellen Contreras. Selva and the Magnetic Pull of Markets: Organic Coffee Growing in Mexico.? Grassroots Development 19:1, pp 27-34. Mutersbaugh, Tad. Serve and certify: paradoxes of service work in organic- coffee certification. Society and Space 22 (2004) pp 522-552. Renard, Marie-Christine. Quality, Regulation, and Power. Journal of Rural Studies 21 (2005) pp 419-431. Roseberry, William. The Rise of Yuppie Coffees and the Reimagination of Class in the United States. American Anthropologist 98:4 (1996) pp 762-775. The [...]


[...] Here, ?workers encounter spaces and moments within the labor process where they must exercise agency in adapting service provision to local conditions.?[13] Historically, the organic coffee movement empowered farmers to devise specific criteria for self-certification through collaboration. Increasingly, however, techniques and standards have undergone changes in the service of international ?harmonization??and as labels grow to encompass disparate sites of production, tensions between farmer knowledge and institutional knowledge can increase. In some cases, farmers are almost totally excluded from setting standards. [...]

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