Photo Credit: Lotte la Cour

Does 'Fair Trade' Help Those Who Harvest Tea?

As part of the International Human Rights Film Series, the Asia Institute put on a screening and discussion of an award-winning 2008 documentary, "The Bitter Taste of Tea," that takes a skeptical view of the fair trade movement's ability to protect laborers within this global industry. Listen to scholars, fair trade advocates and audience members delve into the issues in this audio podcast.

Tom Heinemann and Erling Borgen's documentary "The Bitter Taste of Tea: A Journey into the World of Fair Trade" (2008) goes into tea plantations and fair trade–certified tea cooperatives in Kenya, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to raise questions about working conditions and the capacity of the fair trade movement to improve them. Consumers pay a higher price for products such as coffee, tea, fruit and cut flowers that carry a fair trade label, with the expectation that producers will meet environmental and labor standards.

On Jan. 20, as part of UCLA's 2009-10 International Human Rights Film Series, the Asia Institute invited a group of scholars and fair trade experts to discuss the film with an audience on campus, at its Los Angeles premiere.

The documentary challenges the effectiveness of fair trade in protecting or benefitting workers, and therefore the value of the fair trade model for consumers.

In this audio podcast, you will hear a discussion of the film and a wide array of issues surrounding it. Some of the speakers responded to the film's challenges to fair trade.

"We in the Global North, we long for, we need in some ways, a feeling that we are also empowered in this world that we live in, where poverty and despair are so overwhelming," said David Funkhouser of TransFair, an organization that sets international standards for fair trade labelling. "Fair trade at its best offers a very strong model of empowering farmers and producers and workers and also empowering consumers."

To view the official trailer of "The Bitter Taste of Tea" and learn more, visit the filmmakers' website. The panelists featured in the podcast are:

Beatrice Hohenegger (moderator), author of Liquid Jade: The Story of Tea from East to West (St. Martin's Press, 2006) and guest curator of “Steeped in History: The Art of Tea,” a 2009 museum exhibition on the history and culture of tea at the Fowler Museum at UCLA.

David Funkhouser, TransFair USA
TransFair USA is the non-profit third-party certifying organization, based in Oakland, that first certified fair trade foods for the U.S. market. Founded in 1998, TransFair is the U.S. member of the interational fair trade umbrella group Fair Trade Labeling Organizations International

Rodney North, "The Answer Man," Equal Exchange
Rodney North is one of the most senior members of Equal Exchange, the worker co-operative that introduced Fair Trade foods to the U.S. market in the 1980s. Equal Exchange remains the largest fair trade company in the country. It currently works with more than 40 co-operatives of small-scale, mostly organic coffee, tea, cocoa, sugar and banana farmers, in over 20 countries. North has a degree in International Development. He joined the co-operative in 1996 and serves on the Equal Exchange Board of Directors.

Katherine Stone, UCLA, Professor of Law
Katherine Stone is a leading expert in labor and employment law in the United States. She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship Award in 2008 and a Russell Sage Fellowship for 2008–09 for her work on the changing nature of employment and the regulatory implications. Her forthcoming book, "Globalization and Flexibilization: The Remaking of the Employment Relationship in the 21st Century," will examine the changing employment landscape in Japan, Australia and Europe. Professor Stone is the founder and director of the Globalization and Labor Standards Project, which maintains a database on scholarly articles about comparative and transnational labor issues and publishes a monthly newsletter. It can be found at

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Duration: 1:16:47

Published: Wednesday, January 27, 2010

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