Ethics and Profits – what about the coffee growers?

No business, however great or strong or wealthy it may be at present, can exist on unethical means, or in total disregards to its social concern, for very long. Resorting to unethical behaviour or disregarding social welfare is like calling for its own doom. Thus business needs, in its own interest, to remain ethical and socially responsible. As V.B. Dys in “The Social Relevance of Business ” had stated-

“As a Statement of purpose, maximising of profit is not only unsatisfying, it is not even accurate. A more realistic statement has to be more complicated. The corporation is a creation of society whose purpose is the production and distribution of needed if the whole is to be accurate: you cannot drop one element without doing violence to facts.”

Business needs to remain ethical for its own good. Unethical actions and decisions may yield results only in the very short run. For the long existence and sustained profitability of the firm, business is required to conduct itself ethically and to run activities on ethical lines. Doing so would lay a strong foundation for the business for continued and sustained existence. All over the world, again and again, it has been demonstrated that it is only ethical organisations that have continued to survive and grow, whereas unethical ones have shown results only as flash in the pan, quickly growing and even more quickly dying and forgotten.

Business needs to function as responsible corporate citizens of the country. It is that organ of the society that creates wealth for the country. Hence, business can play a very significant role in the modernisation and development of the country, if it chooses to do so. But this will first require it to come out from its narrow mentality and even narrower goals and motives. However behavioural economists have found that many business people don’t behave in this type of profit-maximising manner in times of crisis – e.g a water shortage means businesses could charge more. If they do, consumers remember and retaliate down the road.

Ethical Consumers

As consumers start to develop a preference for ethical brands, e.g.. Fair Trade Coffee, create a market for such coffee. Firms are therefore pressured to shift toward supplying what consumers want. This is even the case if the firm’s management don’t care how or where the coffee is sourced. Changing consumer preferences force firms to change their ways. Even at higher prices consumers are often willing to pay a premium for ‘ethical’ products or the products of socially responsible firms. Being more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean the company will go out of business if consumers have a preference for ethical products. Higher-priced ethical firms remain highly successful under these circumstances. Instead of being protected by tariffs or subsidies, they’re protected by the preference of consumers.

Coffee supply chain.
However a recent article in the FT outlined the desperate state for coffee growers. The price of high quality arabica beans is trading just above $1 in the New York Commodity Exchange – this is half the value it was 5 years ago. This was due to Brazilian producers flooding the market. Although coffee prices in the cafes have increased the farmers are not the ones to benefit. The image below shows that the grower only gets 1p from the $2.50 and the coffee itself only accounts 10p.

There is a supply chain that takes ‘clips the ticket’ on the way through (see image) but the majority of the cost is associated with rent, wages and tax. The video Black Gold (a bit old now but has some good economics) looks at the growing industry in Ethiopia where they have some of the finest coffee beans in the world. Farmers there have been ripping up coffee plants and replacing it with ‘chat’ – a drug which is banned in the West – which fetches a much higher price.

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