Anyone following Farmers to 40 Updates should read the 2013 Roast Magazine article titled The Long Pipe: Transparency and the Coffee Supply Chain. Recognizing that “transparency has become especially important for roasters interested in pursuing long-term trading relationships with farms under the direct or relationship model,” this story lays out a number of transparency pros and cons, as articulated by several specialty coffee roasters.
A few quotes provide a feel for the issues that are addressed in the story:
- “This is not an industry that has a long history with benevolence and transparency.”
- “Knowing the origin of a coffee doesn’t mean you have any kind of connection with the producer.”
- “… it was mostly farmers who took notice: At least a couple of our partnering farmers were checking out the list to see what prices we were paying to other direct-trade partners.”
- “… simply posting purchasing prices isn’t a meaningful indicator for customers … if you’re just throwing numbers out there with no reference to anything else, what does it mean?”
- “No one reads the transparency scorecard. We get zero questions about it.”
- “… it’s critical in healthy, long-term business relationships for growers to understand why their coffee costs $15 per pound retail in the United States, when they were paid $4.”
- “No one I spoke with argued that increasing transparency for the purposes of improving relationships in the supply chain was a bad idea. (Though the value is broadly accepted, it should be noted that still only a fraction of transactions are performed transparently.)”
- “… makes it incredibly easy to take advantage of consumers, especially in the direct trade model … there are so many definitions, and there is so little accountability. No one is holding us accountable publicly.”
- “In some cases it’s less about what a consumer wants than it is about our responsibility to be as clear as possible. We need to give people more than they ask for.”
It is also informative to take a quick look at how pricing transparency is being addressed on the current websites of the roasters that were mentioned in this story (click through each reference for more information):
- Kuma Coffee … “Premiums paid to farmers have improved harvests and the community for their pickers.”
- Scarlet City Coffee Roasters … No references on the current website relate to the treatment or compensation of coffee growers.
- Just Coffee … “Available on this page are links to our contracts with farmers, the prices we pay to them, our profit and loss statements, and more.”
- Counter Culture … See their most recent Transparency Report.