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The New York Times reports this morning that fair trade products – those that reflect a concern for producers’ social, economic and environmental well-being – generated $2.2 billion in sales during 2006, 42 percent higher than during 2005. And, the Times notes, these sales and products have benefited more than seven million people in developing countries.

Still, despite the growing enthusiasm for fair trade products, there is hardly universal enthusiasm for them. “Some critics of fair trade say that working with thousands of small farmers makes strict adherence to fair trade rules difficult,” the Times writes. “Others argue that fair trade coffee is as exploitive as the conventional kind, especially in countries that produce the highest-quality beans — like Colombia, Ethiopia and Guatemala. Fair trade farmers there are barely paid more than their counterparts in Brazil, though their crops become gourmet brands, selling for a hefty markup, said Geoff Watts, vice president for coffee at Chicago’s Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea, a coffee importer.”
KC's View:
The real question is how much traction fair trade products are going to get … and how much consumers want to know. Earlier this year, I met a coffee importer and retailer in France who is creating stores offering utter transparency about where their fair trade coffees come from – consumers have access to narratives about the sources of the product they are drinking. I think that’s a fascinating approach, and the only question is how far it can go.