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180. What is the standard for (disclosure in) Direct Trade?

2011-06-22 Comments Off on 180. What is the standard for (disclosure in) Direct Trade?

Over the past week or so, I have stumbled onto the websites of two different roasters who source coffee from a cooperative we support in Central America.  Both are well-regarded Direct Trade roasters.  Both have language on their websites that could be construed to suggest that they source all their coffees directly.  One of them even writes in glowing terms about the density of the shade and beauty of the farm on which our partner’s coffee is grown.  The thing is, neither roaster has ever visited the farm.

It makes me wonder what the standard is for disclosure in Direct Trade.  Or, as others more qualified than me have asked, what is the standard for the use of the Direct Trade label itself?

  • Is it ok to craft promotional language about your trading model in such a way that could be interpreted to mean you source all your coffees through direct-to-doorstep relationships when you know that is not the case?
  • Is it ok to embed language from a cooperative profile developed by others in an intimate narrartive it as if it were based on your own experience at source?
  • How many coffees can a roaster buy off an importer’s offering sheet without visiting source and still lay claim to the Direct Trade mantle?

I don’t know the answer to these questions.

And I am not for a moment trying to suggest either of the roasters has done anything wrong.  (In fact, one appears to be doing just what I hoped it would — using language I helped to craft for a cooperative profile with the explicit hope that it would catch the eye and imagination of specialty roasters and consumers.)

I am just trying to understand what I can safely assume when a roaster tells me it is direct trade.

Kim Elena Bullock gave a courageous and searching presentation at the SCAA Symposium asking similar questions about how roasters talk about the issue of sustainability.  (Ironically, perhaps, she is the Director of Sustainability at Counter Culture, the roaster that seems to be setting the standard for disclosure among Direct Trade roasters.)

Perhaps in the end it doesn’t matter all that much.

The reason I think it might is that the Direct Trade concept triggers a set of associations.  Personal relationships.  Visits to source.  Direct communications.  Mutual commitment to quality.  Premium prices.  When one or more of these associations doesn’t hold, are consumers connecting to source as directly as they think they are?  Is it still Direct Trade?