Too Strong Coffee? Concentration at the Top and Anti-Trust Concerns

The coffee supply chain is famously shaped like an hourglass (or, if you will, a drip coffee machine): the broad demand at the top is connected to the millions of small producers at the bottom by a handful of powerful roasters. In 2013, the ten largest roasters controlled more than 40% of total world coffee … Continue reading Too Strong Coffee? Concentration at the Top and Anti-Trust Concerns

“Les 2 Vaches” Shows You Where Your Yoghurt Really Comes From

When we talk about sustainable supply chains and the need for transparency in the entire production process of a product, oftentimes it’s argued that such detailed information is impossible to provide because of the complexity of our global food system. Well, think again – a French organic yoghurt company called “Les 2 Vaches” (“The 2 Cows”) just launched a website that brings corporate transparency to the next level.

Their slogan:

“We do everything we can to trace our ingredients back to their sources. We won’t tell you that we are perfect, but we will tell you what we are doing!”

According to this analysis in Sustainable Brands, 89% of French consumers “state it is essential for them to better understand what are their products are made of, and 60 percent find that there is insufficient information.

Thus, the yoghurt company decided it was time to step up their game. On their website, you can choose the yoghurt you prefer (they all have dreamy names like “very wild blueberry” or “delicate raspberry”) and watch as you zoom in on a map that shows you all the ingredients in the product and their origin.

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In the example above, for instance, you can tell that their organic cane sugar came from a plant in Sao Paulo, Brazil, whereas the rest of their ingredients are from Europe.

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Beyond Environmental Sustainability – Pursuing Social Justice in the Food System

Just now I was working on an application for a teaching job on Sustainable Development and reflecting on how often we conflate “sustainability” with “environmentalism”. Yes, of course protecting the environment is important, especially in an activity so dependent on ecosystems as agriculture, but just as important is the second pillar of sustainability – the social one. This includes paying all members of the food chain that help bring food into the grocery store and onto our tables a fair wage. Here are two articles that reflect recent activities on that topic:

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First, in a surprise move Walmart has joined the Fair Food Program initiated by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida. The Fair Food Program is a voluntary agreement that links laborers, tomato farm owners and final purchasers through a legal framework that guarantees … wait for it … that final purchasers pay 1 penny more per pound of tomatoes. When I first read that, I didn’t really grasp the significance of it – 1 penny? – but this actually constitutes a 50% raise for farm laborers when it is passed down all the way to their paycheck – now, they earn 80$ a day instead of 50$. In addition, according to the Civil Eats article, “Signatories abide to a Code of Conduct that enforces zero-tolerance for slavery or sexual assault. Workers attend education sessions to learn their rights and responsibilities under the Program. They are also informed about health and safety issues.” In an industry where (migrant) labor rights are so often ignored, such assurances – and a proper legal system that allows for complaints and grievances to reach the appropriate authorities – can go a long way to help make working conditions at least a bit better for the people that pick our crops. Notably, though a number of fast food restaurants have signed on in the past (most of the big ones except for Wendy’s), Walmart is one of the first big retailers that has taken the step (after Whole Foods), raising the pressure for industry competitors to respond alike. This is the strategy of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers – by tackling a small issue (the program for now only extends to tomatoes, and is only covering Florida – which still provides around one third of the national tomato harvest) and utilizing peer pressure to urge along the main industry contenders, they can celebrate small successes while demonstrating a model that is easily rolled out to different regions, crops and circumstances. As the Civil Eats article concludes with the words of Alexandra Guáqueta, chair of the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights, “We are eager to see whether the Fair Food Program is able to leverage further change within participation businesses and serve as a model elsewhere in the world.” Me too.

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Happy Thanksgiving! Going Shopping Tomorrow?

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends! I hope you are enjoying your holidays and spending time with friends, family and loved ones. Now, one question – how do you feel about Black Friday and/or Cyber Monday coming up? Artists like Chris Piascik regularly criticize the “I’m SO thankful for everything I have. I am truly blessed — HEYY LOOK, CHEAP STUFFFFF! I NEED IT!! IT’S MINE!! GET OUTTA MY WAY!!” mentality that grips us around this particular holiday. Doing as much thinking as I do about sustainable consumption patterns, this attitude particularly pains me – especially if people end up buying things that they don’t particularly need. However, we don’t have to fall into the trap of the race for the best deals, and companies don’t have to follow the generic pattern of offering below-cost goods just to keep up with the competition either, as firms like Patagonia impressively showcase.

The Responsible Economy
Image credit: Patagonia

They are well-known for supporting long-lasting rather than instantaneous purchasing decisions and first showed up on the radar with their infamous “Don’t buy this jacket” ad in the New York Times on Black Friday 2011.

This year, they go even further in advocating for sustainable consumption decisions by hosting Black Friday Worn Wear parties in their stores, where this 30 min movie about the relationship of people with their favorite worn pieces of clothing is screened, live music and food is offered, and a Patagonia repair clinic is hosted where customers can repair their used Patagonia gear. Check out this post to see whether there are parties in your city!

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Agribusiness and Human Rights: Briefing for Social Movements

Originally posted on Food Governance:
CIDSE has just published a new brief on Agribusiness and Human Rights. In this briefing CIDSE asks  what global business & human rights standards should be applied to agricultural investment in order to reach the ultimate objectives of achieving the right to food, alleviating poverty, enhancing sustainable food production and… Continue reading Agribusiness and Human Rights: Briefing for Social Movements

Returns with Responsibility – How Ethical Is Your Investment?

A couple of days ago I finally managed to finish up one of the last hurdles of settling somewhere new – getting a new Swedish bank account – and was so happy that I was able to circumvent the system (normally you need a Swedish residence number which we don’t have) that, frankly, I gave very little thought to the ethical standards of the bank that I finally picked. Imagine my surprise when at a lunch seminar yesterday a representative of that same bank – Nordea – started to talk about the ethics of investing in food commodities and the ethics of investment decisions in general!

What companies does your hard-earned money support?
Image by, via Flickr CC.

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