Fair Trade coffee pioneer speaks at York

Fair Trade coffee pioneer Tadesse Meskela comes to York Sept. 10 to speak as part of a Canadian speaking tour to raise awareness about the global coffee trade.

Meskela is founder and general manager of the Ethiopian Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union. He and the coop were featured in Black Gold: Wake Up and Smell the Coffee, a British documentary by Nick and Marc Francis that premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.

Left: Tadesse Meskela in the documentary Black Gold

In his talk, Fair Trade Coffee and the Global Coffee Industry, Meskela will speak about the realities and impact of the global commodity trade in coffee on all involved, from small Ethiopian coffee farmers to large multinationals such as Starbucks Coffee. He gives his talk Monday at 4pm in Room W132, Seymour Schulich Building.

Meskela founded the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union in 1999 and spends most of his time flying around the world meeting coffee buyers who will pay his farmers a better price than that set by the international commodities exchange. The union represents 101 cooperatives and ensures the livelihood of some half million individuals (74,000 coffee farmers and their families).

Meskela’s drive to help poor coffee farmers comes from growing up in poverty in the countryside outside Addis Ababa. Though his family could not afford to buy him shoes or pack him lunches, he walked two hours back and forth to school for years and did so well he won a place at university. During the early 1990s, while working as a senior expert in the state agricultural bureau, he spent two months in Japan on a cooperative training placement. He came back inspired to develop a cooperative union system so farmers would be spared the expense of middlemen and exporters. In 1999, he formed the Oromia Coffee Farmers’ Cooperative Union.

Since then, the union has paid $2 million in dividends to member farmers as well as funded the contruction of four new schools, 17 additional classrooms, four health centres and two water supply stations.

Fair Trade is an organized social movement that aims to help marginalized producers and workers in developing countries gain economic self-sufficiency by exporting their products to developed countries and selling them at a "fair" price. The movement promotes international labour, environmental and social policy standards in the production of Fair Trade labelled and unlabelled goods. It encourages producers to play an active role in their cooperatives and in the global arena to achieve greater equity in international trade.

The principles of Fair Trade are fair price, fair labour conditions, direct trade, democratic and transparent organizations, community development, and environmental sustainability.

Fair Trade-certified goods available in the US include coffee, tea and herbs, cocoa and chocolate, fresh fruit, sugar, rice and vanilla.

At the Schulich School of Business, Timothy’s Market Café sells Las Nubes coffee, York’s own Fair Trade coffee brand.

Meskela’s lecture is sponsored by Planet Bean Coffee, Just Us! Coffee Roasters Co-Op, York’s Business & Society Program, Las Nubes Sustainable Coffee Project, Division of Social Science, International Development Studies Program, African Studies Program, and the Schulich School of Business’ International MBA, Entrepreneurial Studies & Family Enterprise, Business Ethics, Corporate Social Responsibility, and Business & Sustainability Programs.

For more information about Meskela’s talk, e-mail SustainabilityEvent@schulich.yorku.ca.