In a world of high finance, unprecedented technological change, and cyber billionaires, it is easy to forget that a major source of global wealth is, literally, right under our noses. Coffee is one of the most valuable Southern exports, generating billions of dollars in corporate profits each year, even while the majority of the world's 25 million coffee families live in relative poverty.
But who is responsible for such vast inequality? Many analysts point to the coffee market itself, its price volatility and corporate oligarchy, and seek to "correct" it through fair trade, organic and sustainable coffee, corporate social responsibility, and a number of market-driven projects. The result has been widespread acceptance that the "market" is both the cause of underdevelopment and its potential solution.
Against this consensus, Gavin Fridell provocatively argues that state action, both good and bad, has been and continues to be central to the everyday operations of the coffee industry, even in today's world of "free trade". Combining rich history with an incisive analysis of key factors shaping the coffee business, Fridell challenges the notion that injustice in the industry can be solved "one sip at a time" – as ethical trade promoters put it. Instead, he points to the centrality of coffee statecraft both for preserving the status quo and for initiating meaningful changes to the coffee industry in the future.
"Gavin Fridell's insightful, well argued and up-to-date analysis of the world coffee economy demonstrates that the state's role in coffee statecraft continues to be essential to creating a more just division of the earnings in the world of coffee. As well as providing a thorough guide to the economics and politics of one of the world's most important commodities, this book will spark much needed debate about the nature of neoliberalism and market-based solutions to economic and social problems."
- Steven Topik, University of California Irvine
"Your morning cup of coffee will never smell the same after reading this book. Henceforth the scent of exploitation, colonialism and environmental destruction will follow it everywhere. Offering a richly grounded critical and historical analysis, Gavin Fridell lays bare the web of myths surrounding this 'quintessential global commodity.' Coffee will be essential reading for those interested in the political economy of land, food and the realities of 'fair trade'; and indispensable for those concerned about social justice today."
- David McNally, York University, Toronto
1. The Global Market and Coffee Statecraft
2. Making Coffee
3. Pro-Poor Regulation
4. Coffee Unleashed?
5. Fair Trade and Corporate Power
6. Coffee and the Non-Developmental State
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Gavin Fridell is professor of International Development at St Mary's University, Canada.