Consumers who pay extra for coffee or other products with Fairtrade labels may not be helping the lives of the world’s poor, a new study suggests. Researchers from SOAS, University of Londonm spent four years looking at coffee, tea and flower workers in Ethiopia and Uganda. The study finds some at Fairtrade sites earning less than those at workplaces that are not Fairtrade certified.
Fairtrade International, which sets standards, is pushing back, saying the study makes unfair comparisons, though CEO Harriet Lamb does says the study makes valid points about the challenge of making sure Fairtrade money flows all the way through farmers to farm hands.
Christopher Cramer, one of the study’s authors, says Fairtrade does do good. He and his colleagues would like to see consumers get “clearer information about exactly who benefits and how and on the basis of what evidence.”
The conversation the study is provoking about Fairtrade is a reminder for anyone who shops with an eye toward a certain goal, be that supporting local, organic or Fairtrade producers. It’s wise to do a bit of homework to make sure that extra money is doing what is hoped.
Mark Garrison: The study finds some workers at Fairtrade sites earning less than those that aren’t Fairtrade. Economist Christopher Cramer, one of the study’s authors, spoke to our partners at the BBC.
Christopher Cramer: If people think that Fairtrade is in the very best interest of the poorest people, then there are serious problems.
Fairtrade International, which sets standards, is pushing back. CEO Harriet Lamb says the study makes unfair comparisons involving workers on very small plots of land.
Harriet Lamb: It compared the conditions they’re in with those of a plantation run by a multinational in the same area. Now that’s not fair.
Bigger companies can pay better because of their larger scale, though the British researchers say they account for that. They want shoppers to have more information. Cornell economist Arnab Basu studies Fairtrade, but isn’t involved in this research. He says Fairtrade buyers are informed overall, but often don’t know the details.
Arnab Basu: There is a bit of a misperception as to what they’re actually doing and who they’re really helping.
And Lamb at Fairtrade International points out there’s only so much most shoppers can take in.
Lamb: As a busy mother or father going around the supermarket, your kids are screaming and you want to play your part in tackling poverty, there’s really a limit to the amount of information that you can seek out or look for on one small chocolate bar, one small pack of coffee.
Cramer says Fairtrade does do good. And Lamb says his study makes valid points about the challenge of making sure Fairtrade money flows all the way through from farmers to farm hands. I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.
Sarah Beth Mathews just can't seem to get comfortable these days. She gets up in the middle of the night to go the bathroom. She's lugging extra weight around. Normal stuff when you're 38 weeks pregnant.
She's come in for a checkup with Sarah Aultman, an obstetrician at Brookwood Medical Center in Birmingham, Ala. When it comes time to deliver this baby, Aultman has no plans to rush to do a C-section.
"Now we recognize that it's safe to let a woman continue to try and labor," she says. "And the conversation I have with my patients is as long as mom is safe and baby is safe, I'm happy to continue trying for a vaginal delivery."
That falls right in line with guidelines issued last month by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine. They essentially say wait, give moms a chance to deliver vaginally.
"This document is about being patient," says Aaron Caughey, an obstetrician who helped draft the new guidelines.
But experts say that's easier said than done. And for those in the business of delivering babies, the change is going to affect the bottom line.
Caughey says that recently, hospitals have pushed to cut C-section rates. Hospitals charge more for C-sections, but they also cost more.
"Women stay longer after C-sections. They require more intensive nursing care. They require more intensive O.R. care," he says, referring to the operating room.
So what about obstetricians, who feel pressure to deliver as many babies as they can?
"It does lead to us being patient and waiting for longer periods of time," Caughey says. "So if it's Friday at 8 p.m. and, you know, I could be at home, instead I'm going to hang out and see if someone's cervix will change."
So they might lose a little more sleep, but they're not likely to make much more money, says Neel Shah, a Harvard Medical School obstetrician based at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, who has studied the cost of labor.
"The hospital might make more money on a C-section, but the person who decides to do the C-section doesn't necessarily make more money," Shah says.
In fact, one report says out of the private insurance payout on a vaginal birth, doctors get a 25 percent slice of the pie. That's slightly more than the 21 percent they get for a C-section birth.
Still, Shah says, C-sections are faster than vaginal deliveries. So if an obstetrician is paid per delivery, more is better for the bottom line.
"The longer that labor lasts, the more attractive it might be or the stronger the incentive might be to offset your workload by just getting her delivered," he says.
CNET reports that doctors and scientists are beginning to test out suspended animation as a way to keep critically-wounded patients alive. According to the report:
The technique will initially be used on 10 patients whose wounds would otherwise be lethal in an attempt to buy the surgeons some time. It works, as suggested by science fiction, by cooling the body -- but not by applying an external temperature change.
The procedure has been performed on pigs, but this would be the first time the technique is used on humans.
Dr. Samuel Tisherman told New Scientist, "We are suspending life, but we don't like to call it suspended animation because it sounds like science fiction."
Ah yes, the food trend story.
In today's age of Upworthy, Buzzfeed and attention-grabbing viral headlines, we see a lot of them... consider this story from the Huffington Post titled, "We're Just Going To Declare That 2014 Is The Year Of The Sheet Cake."
And when talking about food trends, it is impossible to ignore the cupcake. The most frequently-told tale about the ascendance of the treat is rooted in a scene in Sex and the City that supposedly launched it into our collective cultural conciousness. Early on in his book, Sax asks a question: "Thousands of years in the future, when archaeologists are cobing through the artificants of our age... will the archaeologists recognize cupcakes?"
"In the first decade of the the twenty-first century there were cakes baked in cups, cakes of every imaginable flavor and combination; that these cakes were covered in sweet frosting, in everything from simple vanilla creams to elaborate artistic 3-D creations, that for more than ten years these little cakes were a subject of great power and fasination all over the world; and that all of that, from the global tribes of devoted bakers to the chroniclers of the phenomenon to the multibillion-dollar cupcake economy, all began here, on this sacred corner of Manhattan, at this small bakery."
But Sax says it's not as simple as Carrie and Miranda eating cupcakes on screen.
"Sex and the City was distilled down into all these different consumer items that were attached to it. Sex and the City!: Manolo Blahnik heels, Rabbit vibrators, cupcakes and Cosmos, come on ladies!" Sax says. "And when I went on the Sex and City [tourist bus] tour, that was sort of the essence of it... but anytime you read an article about Sex and the City... they all referenced it, 'Go to Magnolia Bakery, because that's where Carrie and Miranda's favorite cupcake place is,' and it just perpetuated itself."
"It was a 20-second scene in one episode of the show. There was never another cupcake in Sex and the City that ever appeared again. And yet it has this incredibly strong association with the show that transformed the cucpake."
Comcast is going to war in its pursuit to merge with Time Warner Cable. The telecom giant has reportedly bought up lobbyists at 40 different firms around Washington.
It turns out anxiety-- that nagging feeling that something, everything might go wrong -- actually has benefits in the business world.
A list of U.S. officials who briefed President Obama on his surprise trip to Bagram air base in Afghanistan this weekend inadvertently included the name of the agency's station chief in Kabul.
With services that pick up your laundry, deliver you gourmet food, take you on a cheap ride — all with the tap of an app — many of the hassles of life are disappearing. But can these companies last?