I have been writing for a long time. Extensively. As a student, a journalist, a researcher and a blogger. Since the mid-1990s, when I did a few brief stints at newspapers in Latin America, that writing has often been for external audiences.
In writing, I take great care in choosing my words. On this blog, I have addressed a lot of touchy subjects over the years. It is a source of some satisfaction that even when I have addressed difficult issues or taken unpopular positions on those issues, the dialogue has been (mostly) constructive. I think that is partly a result of the fact that I have been careful in how I have addressed those issues. In the words I have chosen. In the case of a post I published last week on farmworkers and Fair Trade, I did not choose my words as carefully as I might have.
In the original post, I wrote that the first of the SOAS report’s top three messages was “FAIR TRADE COFFEE’S DIRTY LITTLE LABOR SECRET IS OUT.” I knew the language was chippy, and considered whether I might soften it before publishing. I didn’t, but I should have.
Not because I don’t stand by the observations that follow about the fluidity of labor categories in the coffeelands. I do. As we collectively seek greater understanding of farmworkers in coffee, it will be important to understand that binary definitions are often ill-suited for realities that are messier.
But I think the language of the header distracted from those observations, and invited readers to respond in kind, especially on Daily Coffee News, where the post was republished under the screaming headline “Opinion: ‘Fair Trade’s dirty little labor secret is out.’”
The fact that this blog has succeeded (occasionally) in provoking constructive exchange on challenging issues in coffee and sustainability is the reason I keep doing it. I know from comments made online and off that many readers value the blog for this reason. So I will continue to write here about the challenges we face and the opportunities we see in our work in the field and our engagement in the marketplace, even if the issues I raise are uncomfortable. But I will choose my words more carefully in the hopes of keeping the comments constructive.
Meantime, I have changed the language of the offending header to read: “THE LINES BETWEEN LABOR CATEGORIES ARE BLURRIER IN REALITY THAN IN THE FAIR TRADE COFFEE NARRATIVE.” It is not as catchy, that’s for sure. But it is an accurate summary of the observations that follow. More importantly, it is the point I was trying (unsuccessfully, it seems) to get across.