the bitter reality of TOMS coffee


As you might have heard TOMS has expanded its one-for-one initiative once again, this time into coffee production.  Launching at SXSW, TOMS released an impressive line of coffee offering a variety of roasts from Rwanda, Guatemala, Peru, Honduras, and Malawi.  For every bag purchased they give water to those in need.  The news seems to have taken the world (or at least the web) by storm.  But when I heard the news, I couldn’t help but feel a rush of confusion.  Coffee just doesn’t make sense to me from both a business standpoint and an international development standpoint.

Personally, I think coffee is a strange brand extension for a company that primarily sells apparel.  But coffee is a $20 billion dollar industry and the market share of specialty coffee is sizable and growing.  While it might be outside of their primary business category, maybe there is an opportunity for TOMS to succeed in the coffee industry despite it being a crowded market.

The bigger issue I find with this initiative is a development issue. 

TOMS is no stranger to international development criticism.  The one-for-one shoe model has long been contested in the international development community because it gives shoes away for free, which can harm local markets.  TOMS has improved upon this model and is committed to creating infrastructure and moving shoe production to the communities they serve in order to create jobs.  After the initial success with shoes, TOMS added a new line of products: eyewear.  This model is even better as every pair of sunglasses helps provide eye care to a person in need.  It’s hard to argue with giving medical aid, especially when it supports local organizations.  TOMS also recently launched a marketplace for other brands that give back.  Though it’s hardly a new idea, TOMS is able to leverage its brand to give other socially conscious brands greater visibility and access to consumers.

I commend TOMS for the steps it has taken in recent history to improve its social impact model.  But the coffee addition in my eyes is a step back and here’s why:


TOMS coffee is direct trade.  That’s a plus as it cuts out the middleman and the farmers get a better price.  TOMS supports women and small farmers.  That’s also a plus.  But the real problem is that TOMS is supporting water initiatives while simultaneously selling a product that requires a large amount of water.

Coffee has a high water footprint, even for an agricultural product.

Most of the water is used in production to grow the plant.  Wet production adds to the problem.  While it might only use 0.34% of the water used, the water involved is often scarce and waste from the water can be heavily pollutedTOMS uses wet production. 

TOMS gives water back, you might say.  Yes, it does.  For every bag purchased, TOMS pledges 140 liters of water to a person in need.  But here’s the real kicker: it takes 140 liters of water to make just one standard 125 ml cup of coffee.  That’s 1,100 drops of water to produce one drop of coffee.  You can make about 34 cups of coffee from a 12 oz bag (the size that TOMS sells).

That means that TOMS is giving 140 liters of water for a bag of coffee that needs 4,760 liters of water to produce. 

TOMS gives water to those in need in the areas where their coffee is produced.  But the 140 liters of water that it is giving hardly makes a dent in the amount of water used in productionA slightly lesser impact does not equal a positive impact.  It’s hard to imagine a scenario where this model would have a net positive impact on water insecurity.  A net positive impact on people’s livelihoods?  Sure.  But a net positive impact on water insecurity?  I don’t think so.

The most important thing for a social enterprise is to make sure the social mission is strongly aligned with the business mission.  In this case, the two counteract each other.  And that, in my eyes, is a step back for TOMS.

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fear and loathing in florida.

July 13, 2013.  It was my birthday and my husband and I were sitting in line waiting for the Hollywood Forever Cemetery gates to open.  We were meeting friends for an outdoor screening of Scream.  We checked our phones and saw the George Zimmerman verdict had come in, not guilty.  Around the same time, everyone else must have done the same thing, because a hushed murmur traveled through the crowd.  There was a palpable uneasiness in the air.  A young unarmed boy was shot dead by an armed member of a neighborhood watch.  Nothing about that seemed right.  But the George Zimmerman verdict isn’t what was wrong.



The following passage is part of the instructions that were given to the jury prior to deliberation.  The bold text was added for emphasis:


An issue in this case is whether George Zimmerman acted in self-defense. It is a defense to the crime of Second Degree Murder, and the lesser included offense of Manslaughter, if the death of Trayvon Martin resulted from the justifiable use of deadly force.

“Deadly force” means force likely to cause death or great bodily harm.

A person is justified in using deadly force if he reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself.  In deciding whether George Zimmerman was justified in the use of deadly force, you must judge him by the circumstances by which he was surrounded at the time the force was used.  The danger facing George Zimmerman need not have been actual; however, to justify the use of deadly force, the appearance of danger must have been so real that a reasonably cautious and prudent person under the same circumstances would have believed that the danger could be avoided only through the use of that force. Based upon appearances, George Zimmerman must have actually believed that the danger was real.

If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in anyplace where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

In considering the issue of self-defense, you may take into account the relative physical abilities and capacities of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin.  If in your consideration of the issue of self-defense you have a reasonable doubt on the question of whether George Zimmerman was justified in the use of deadly force, you should find George Zimmerman not guilty.

After reading the passage, it’s not surprising that George Zimmerman was found not guilty.  Though, admittedly, I did not watch the entire trial, it seems to me that the verdict was most likely a just verdict under Florida law.  But even if justice was served for George Zimmerman, that doesn’t mean that justice was served for Trayvon Martin.  There is still something very unjust about the manner in which he died.  And I think that fear is the main reason for this.

For me, this was the most important part of the jury instructions:

The danger facing George Zimmerman need not have been actual; however, to justify the use of deadly force, the appearance of danger must have been so real that a reasonably cautious and prudent person under the same circumstances would have believed that the danger could be avoided only through the use of that force.

And this is the part where race comes into play.  It’s not hard to believe that George Zimmerman feared for his life during a confrontation with a young black man in a sweatshirt.  Because in our society, we are conditioned to believe that black men, in particular, are dangerous and commit more crimes than other groups of people.  And so, we fear them.  It’s the reason why it’s not unheard of for police to shoot an unarmed black man after mistakenly assuming they have a gun.  Even though there is extensive training in order to avoid these types of events, in stressful situations this mistake happens more than it should.  But it is virtually unheard of for police to shoot an unarmed white man.  We believe that black people are more dangerous.  If police can make this mistake time and time again even after extensive training, it was only a matter of time before an armed member of a neighborhood watch did the same.  Which raises another issue of whether or not we should arm every day people under these circumstances.  But that’s another conversation for another day.  The bottom line is that race is still an issue in this country.  And justice will be served for Trayvon Martin only when we stop fearing black men more than other members of our society.  

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child labor.

Child labor.  It’s a hot button issue.  But it’s an issue that isn’t always fully understood.  Though, thankfully, there are programs out there that do understand the complexity of child labor.

In developed nations, we grow up with the notion that every child has a basic right to education.  Every child also has the basic right to have a childhood.  This period of innocence and learning has been culturally constructed.  And it’s an important period in our lives.  So, we mourn the fact that every child doesn’t get to experience this same period of time.

But every family also has the right to live.  To live, you need money.  To get money, you need to work.  Every person has the right to work in order to make a living and survive.  It’s a very basic right that needs to be fulfilled.

Sometimes, these two rights are at odds.  In order for a family to have enough money to survive, the children have to help out.  This often means sacrificing school in order to work around the house or in the fields.  In developing countries, the right to work trumps the right to education.  Whereas, in the U.S. the general consensus is that the right to education should trump the right to work.  People and families go into large amounts of debt in the U.S. in pursuit of an education.

But not everyone understands the importance of respecting that trade off.  That is evident of this recent article in Co.Exist.

The article talks about a new App in Columbia that allows people to send an SMS text and anonymously tip authorities when they see children that are working instead of being in school.

The Kid Rescue app from Telefónica Telecom in Colombia is now encouraging people to tackle crime by taking geotagged photographs when they spot young people illegally working. (source)

It says that the application is sent to a social worker who decides what to do about the case. Over 1,000 children have been identified and 60 have been placed in schools.  There is very little information about how that happens.  So, for all I know, there might be an economics piece involved.  But based on the information that Telefonica gives (which is very little) we’ll assume they don’t.

Based on that, I am confused as to how this helps the issue of child labor.  So, the children are identified.  Then what?  Children don’t work for fun.  There’s a reason why they are working.  Can an app really change the reason why the children were working in the first place?  Probably not.  My guess is the children will go back to working.  If they are forced to stay in school, the family will suffer.

It’s clear that programs that simply force children to be in school don’t work.  They don’t really address the issue.  Because at the end of the day it’s an economics issue.  So, what does?  Programs that provide financial incentives to send their children to school.

The Bolsa Familia in Brazil is an example of a successful program.  The program gives low-income families a family allowance.  Families get paid to have their kids in school.  It compensates them for the money they lose by not having their children work.  If the children miss more than 15% of their classes, the allowance is suspended.  Once they return to school, it gets reinstated.  The Economist provides a more balanced look at the program in this article.

Peru is currently launching a similar program.

Peru’s labor ministry announced a $13 million project to improve access to education in rural areas of the country. The $13 million grant given by the United States will also help parents by augmenting their incomes and crop yields so that they become less dependent on their children for labor. (source)

But it’s not necessarily going to be easy.  The right to work vs. the right to education is still an issue.  Every culture does not value the right to education over the right to work.

Some children and young adults oppose this Project, arguing that it will take away their right to work. Peruvian children have worked in the fields since Inca times, and Manthoc, a Peruvian organization representing child workers, believe this tradition should continue as part of the normal development of the Peruvians.

The Peruvian government hopes to persuade rural families not to send their kids to work. Government officials know that it will not be easy unless they can improve income and employment opportunities for the millions of Peruvian who live in poverty.

You can’t just address education.  In order to curb drop out rates, a holistic approach is needed.  You cannot separate economics from child labor and education.  And you can’t forget the cultural implications.  But programs such as the Bolsa Familia and the new program in Peru are a step in the right direction.

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beautiful game: the epic romance of brazilian soccer

One of the projects I am currently working on is with Counterweight Productions.  I help develop social impact strategies for film and television.  We recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for one of our projects.

Beautiful Game: The Epic Romance of Brazilian Soccer

Beautiful Game: The Epic Romance of Brazilian Soccer is a 4 part documentary series on the passion of Brazilian soccer that will air internationally leading up to the World Cup in 2014.

A series no soccer fan will want to miss, BEAUTIFUL GAME will explore all of the factors––the futebol stars, the passionate fans, the unique Brazilian style of play––which combine to make Brazil the most dramatic force in international soccer, winner of more FIFA World Cups than any other nation and the only team to have played in every World Cup.

We also plan on adding a social mission to the film.  Sport for development programs are increasing in popularity.  Soccer is being used to help kids and adults learn leadership skills, social skills, and even HIV/AIDS prevention.  Check out UNICEF’s Sport for Development page for more information.

It’s going to be an incredible documentary series.  A bonus?  It will help raise awareness about a great cause.  But in order for that to happen we need to get it funded.

In return for funding the project, there are a series of perks we’re offering.  Here’s a few that stand out:

$5 – Beautiful Game rubber wristband

$25 – Digital download of all 4 episodes of Beautiful Game

$50 – Swag from one of the 40 Series D Brazilian soccer teams we visit + digital download of all 4 episodes

$100 – Tour for 2 of the NYC post production facility + digital download of all 4 episodes

$500 – 2 tickets to Beautiful Game Premiere + after party

$1,000 – Featured in a montage that will air with the episodes internationally sharing how soccer has impacted your life.  We’ll also be creating a website where people will be able to see your full interview.

Please check out our Kickstarter campaign page.  Donate if you can.  If not, please help spread the word.  And follow us on Twitter @FutebolDoc.  Thank you!

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the decision to eat meat.

Before this weekend, I had not eaten meat since January 2005 when I became a vegan.  I was a vegan for two years after which I converted to vegetarianism due to an unrelated health issue.  I remained a vegetarian for the next five years.  That’s 7.5 years of not eating meat.

My reasons for not eating meat were numerous.  My main motivation was political.  The fact that the dietary guidelines are controlled by the USDA is frustrating.  Especially since the USDA is a revolving door for senior executives in the meat and dairy industry.  If you don’t know much about this issue, I highly recommend you read Food Politics by Marion Nestle.  At the very least, check out her blog.  Other reasons were human and animal rights based.  Then, of course, there were health reasons as well.  Factory farming doesn’t exactly have a stellar track record in the health department.  Which is why I chose to live life as an herbivore.

Now, I’m an omnivore again.  

Why you ask?

Well, those reasons are numerous as well and similar in nature.  

One, is health based.  My diet consists mainly of fruit, vegetables, avocados, soynut butter, greek yogurt, and occasionally eggs.  I don’t eat that many grains.  I’m not big on overly processed food.  Most of my diet is inherently low calorie.  I have recently started a new rigorous exercise regimen that includes Brick SpeedX, a  60 minute high intensity interval training class.  I haven’t been able to keep my caloric intake high enough to compensate.  I’m not a big fan of blacking out.  I started thinking about eating meat because meat is denser and will make it easier to fuel my workouts appropriately.

The other reasons were developed after reading the essays on the Ethics of Eating Meat in the New York Times.  Most of the essays were written by former vegetarians who entered the agricultural industry as a vegetarian because of their interest in ethics and sustainability.  When they started working in the field they realized how important livestock is to the life cycle of crops.  It’s not only natural, it’s a necessity.  The writers also noted that in today’s society our food system is inherently unethical.  It doesn’t matter whether you are an herbivore, omnivore, or carnivore, you are most likely eating unethically.  Eating ethically is a choice.  One you have to make with every single bite you take.

The industry needs to change.  Our world literally depends on it from both a sustainability and a health standpoint.  And I want to make sure I am one of the (hopefully) many people forcing that change.

As my husband and I sat in the grocery store parking lot, we discussed the best way to do that.  When you become a vegetarian, you leave the market.  You are no longer a target consumer.  Unfortunately, the number of vegetarians is minimal compared to the number of meat eaters.  Becoming a vegetarian doesn’t influence the meat and dairy industries one bit.  They cut their losses and continue selling to the people that will eat meat.  The people who do consume meat influence the market.  When you choose to buy ethical and sustainable meat, you are taking money away from the factory farms and putting it in the hands of sustainable farmers.  Buying organic, pastured, free range meat and dairy sends a signal that this is the direction the industries need to head in.  And in the process you support the small farmers who are doing it the way it should be done.

So, I started eating meat.  But only meat that is ethically and sustainably sourced.  I will likely still eat a mostly vegetarian diet.  Especially if I am outside of my own home.  I do not plan on eating meat that I am not 100% sure was ethically sourced.  But I will no longer assume I am eating ethically and sustainably simply because of my diet.

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business makes the world go ’round.

Recently, at a rally in Las Vegas, Romney was quoted as saying:

I was speaking with one of these business owners who owns a couple of restaurants in town. And he said You know I’d like to change the Constitution, I’m not sure I can do it,’ he said. ‘I’d like to have a provision in the Constitution that in addition to the age of the president and the citizenship of the president and the birthplace of the president being set by the Constitution, I’d like it also to say that the president has to spend at least three years working in business before he could become president of the United States.’

You see then he or she would understand that the policies they’re putting in place have to encourage small business, make it easier for business to grow.

I understand that his whole campaign is centered around the fact that because he has a business background he is not only qualified, but more qualified, to be President.  But, you would think the candidate of a party that idolizes an actor would have realized that this was not the smartest thing to say.

This was a silly comment for a number of reasons, the most obvious being that history has proven that a background in business, if anything, has a negative correlation with a successful presidency.  But also because this comment is based off of one person that believes business should be a prerequisite for Presidency.   And, sure, maybe that shows that some people would prefer to have a businessman as President.  They want someone in office who understands business because they want policies to be made in their favor.  Fine.  But, I’m sure a lot of professionals would say the same thing.  A farmer would most likely prefer someone with an agricultural background.  A lawyer, someone with a legal background.  A doctor, someone with a medical background.  If you’re homeless, it would be nice to have a President who has also been homeless at some point.  And as a social entrepreneur, I would really love a President who understands that you can make a profit and give back at the same time.  That there is a holistic way of looking at business that factors society and the environment into the equation.  Does that mean that all of these should be prerequisites in order to be President?  Of course not.  A constitutional amendment is just ludicrous.

The fact that one person thinks this way does not concern me.  It is naive.  But most of the country is naive when it comes to certain aspects of politics.  You can’t expect everyone to understand or even care about all aspects of government.  Most people care about the things that affect them directly.

But the fact that someone who could be our next President references this idea as one of the big reasons why he should be President does concern me.

I want a President who knows about more than business.  Because in order to be President, you have to know the law.  You have to know how government works.  You have to know economics.  And by economics I mean macroeconomics, not finance.  You have to know something about international relations and foreign policy.  Knowledge of international development would be helpful.  What about healthcare and education?  Advisors can fill in the knowledge gaps for all of these areas.  But most importantly you have to know your fellow men and women.  Not just a section of the population.  You have to be able to understand, connect with, and have empathy for every single American.  Advisors can’t help you with that.

Romney has shown time and time again that he can’t seem to connect with every single American.  He can connect with business men and women like the owner of two restaurants.  He can connect with the wealthy.  He can connect with those who make it their life goal to make as much money as possible.  But he can’t connect with the people who don’t care that much about wealth.  He can’t connect with people who aren’t cutthroat competitive, not to be confused with lazy.  He can’t connect with people who put other aspects of life ahead of making money.  The people who would rather eat dinner every single night with their family than slave away at the office.  The people who work three jobs, not because they are greedy but because they are doing everything they can so that their children can get a better education and have access to better opportunities.  The people who have no other choice because they are part of a system that is designed to keep them at the bottom.  Our President needs to be able to connect with the bottom 1% as much as the top 1%.

Romney truly believes that business and money make the world go round.  He can’t seem to wrap his mind around the fact that success isn’t always defined by the number in your back account.  And that is what scares me most about the possibility of Romney being our next President.

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nike: a csr cinderella story.

I had originally planned on writing about the inherent unethical nature of our modern day food system.  The New York Times recently released the top 6 essays on the ethics of eating meat.  As a vegetarian and former vegan I was intrigued.  And it gave me a lot to think about.

But, then, I saw Leon Kaye from Green Go Post‘s article on Nike.  After spending some time perusing their latest update on their sustainability and corporate responsibility efforts, I knew I had to write about them.

I like to refer to Nike as a “Cinderella Story”.

From the moment I started working on Give To Get Jobs, I became very involved in the corporate social responsibility community.  I hadn’t thought about Nike in a long time and I certainly did not buy their products.  I didn’t think very highly of Nike.  

When I thought of Nike I thought of two things:

1) sweatshops and child labor; and

2) the interview the then CEO had given with Michael Moore when he used the “it’s better than nothing” argument.

I was just starting to get involved in international human rights as a middle school kid in the 90s.  I remember the sweatshop issues that were brought to light around Nike.  That really was my first learning experience about the importance of fair trade.  And fair trade was something I bought into right away.  So, this event cemented my distaste for Nike for over the next decade.  

When I started becoming involved in the corporate social responsibility community about a year and a half ago, I started hearing about Nike again.  But this time, it wasn’t about sweatshops.  It was about the sustainability work they were doing.  I heard over and over again in #CSRChats that they were a leader in CSR.  Part of me just couldn’t wrap my mind around that.  As I dug deeper and started to learn more about the work they are doing, I realized just how incredible Nike had become.  They are doing some truly amazing and innovative work in sustainability.  And suddenly I became one of Nike’s biggest fans.

There are a number of reasons why I have fallen in love with Nike.  Their latest CSR report highlights a lot of these reasons.  But here’s a few that stand out:

Labor: They acknowledge the struggles they had in the 90s and are super transparent about where they have come and how far they still have to go.  They even include an interactive chart on where their factories fall as far as ratings are concerned.

They also recognize that they have control over a lot of the deficiencies in the supply chain system.  Overtime, for example, is a direct result of their production timelines and seasonal spikes.  They are looking into decreasing excessive overtime through making changes in their forecasting and other areas of their supply chain.

Product Design & Materials:  They start off by stating:

The “age of abundance” is over. Conspicuous consumption, wanton waste of natural resources, cheap energy – those days are long gone. In this new world, resources are scarce, and sustainability is a business imperative.

Nike is a leader among MNCs when it comes to sourcing and manufacturing sustainably.  Nike uses organic cotton, recycled polyester, environmentally preferred rubber, leather that is signed off on by the Leather Working Group, and synthetic leather whenever possible.  They are continually increasing the ratio of environmentally preferred materials to non environmentally preferred materials.

And look at this:

Manufacturing: Nike released a Manufacturing Map.  Nike’s supply chain is massive.  This map provides details about every single one of their factories.  It’s impressive.  Not too many MNCs are as transparent as Nike is when it comes to their supply chain.

Waste: Nike’s ultimate goal is to have a zero waste system.  They aim to only use resources that can be fully recyclable.  Most of their waste currently comes from packaging in shipping.  A runner up is the waste generated by footwear manufacturing.  To tackle this, one of the things Nike is doing is converting to 100% recycled shoeboxes.  They are open about the fact that they have a long way to go, but they are actively working towards zero waste.

Community: Nike gives a lot.  They are particularly passionate about Sport for Development programs.  Here’s some stats on the people they impact:

Public Policy: I don’t think I agree with them on much of their public policy involvement.  But I appreciate their transparency.

So, there you have it.  These are the reasons why I went from being a Nike hater to a Nike lover.  And I bet more people would love Nike if they only knew about all of the great work they are doing.

A bad reputation can stick with a brand for a long time.  Most of the people I have talked to about Nike immediately think of sweatshops as well.  They automatically assume that Nike is as unethical as ever.  But, Nike has truly turned themselves around.  More people need to know about the corporate responsibility and sustainability work they are doing.  Because when it comes to CSR, they are truly a Cinderella story. 

I wonder if we’ll be able to say the same thing about Apple in 10 years?

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