Wal-Mart is a word that typically conjures up images of bulldozed forests making way for big box retail, swarming shoppers, low cost & low quality products, CEO’s with fat paychecks, and sweatshops in China. Its bad reputation has inspired mass protests, websites devoted to outlining its wrongdoings (such as WIPE, short for Wal-Mart Is Pure Evil), and popular documentary films like Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices. Though with increasing consumer demand for products that make positive environmental and social impacts, even Wal-Mart is making an effort to conserve waste, promote sustainability, and support Fair Trade.
On April 1st, as part of its “Earth Month” initiatives, Wal-Mart released a detailed press release about their plan to launch six new coffees under their Sam’s Choice brand that would include organic, Fair Trade certified, and Rainforest Alliance certified blends. A Fair Trade certification requires certain environmental, social and economical requirements to be met and, most importantly, the producer group to receive a fair price with a set minimum. The Rainforest Alliance certification program also carries heavy requirements that target longterm sustainability and environmental health. The coffees will be roasted by Cafe Bom Dia, a Brazilian Fair Trade cooperative that is one of the first roasters to become Carbon Neutral.
As part of Wal-Mart’s mission to provide “gourmet” items at a “great value,” the coffees, even with all of the impressive certifications and sustainability, are only going to cost $5.88 for 10-12 oz. bags. While skeptics may feel that Wal-Mart is capitalizing on current consumer trends or is doing its share of greenwashing, the initiative is receiving positive accolades from the media, sustainability watchdogs, and even TransFair USA.
TransFair USA is one of the leading Fair Trade certification organizations that audits transactions between US companies and international Fair Trade certified co-ops. In regards to Wal-Mart’s new Fair Trade coffee program, Transfair USA President Paul Rice stated, “Wal-Mart is an innovative partner in offering high quality, Fair Trade Certified coffee in a manner that both expands the marketplace and delivers value back down the supply chain to the farmer. A year from now we will be able to trace Sam’s Choice coffee sales directly to improved environmental management at Fair Trade coffee farms and higher quality of life in farm communities.”
It is true that, with the increased volume and buying power of Wal-Mart, Fair Trade farmers are going to notice a difference and Wal-Mart’s coffees could bring a great deal of added exposure and consumer support to the Fair Trade movement. It is also true that Wal-Mart has been making frequent waves in the press recently with its ongoing green initiatives, such as its solar energy and zero waste campaigns, not to mention the large sums of money the Wal-Mart Foundation has given to environmental causes this year. Whether the global giant is making genuine strides to save our planet or just using progressive causes to feed corporate greed, is up to each individual consumer to decide.