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Dubai, Choices, and Universal Human Rights

In 1958, a modest and compassionate American said, “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world.”

Cultural differences and sensibilities make specialty coffee unique as a trade in each of the world’s regional coffee cultures. The over-arching effort to over-simplify by unifying and quantifying the diverse garden of products we have created, and knowledge that we have gathered is damaging specialty’s philosophic approach to coffee, and other things too, that had made specialty coffee and its original trade association initially so successful.

Dubai is a mistake, and Deferred Candidate Policy is just an effort to leave the original error in place, and smooth it over with what has proved to be an insult to good judgement. We should endeavor to learn from our mistakes, and find better directions to follow as we seek to find a pathway ahead for our trade. Poor decisions will haunt us as long as we fight the natural human capacity to seek freedom, and dignity for our members through our relationships with people in our communities, and through our work. In discussing recent bad decisions by organized specialty coffee’s leadership, SCAA Past President and Lifetime Achievement Laureate, Paul Katzeff, wrote, “Diversity in product should have been what showed the way.” He is right. And, he is right again when he says, “Coffee is about diversity at its core. Many countries produce it, many varieties are cultivated, many production processes are employed to get it ready for export and in countries where consumers set the tone on how the product is brewed, combined with other ingredients to suit the national taste preferences, it is Diversity that trumps Centralization and Uniformity.”

I’m saddened by leadership that fails to deliver on its promises of broad membership participation, openness, and communication, and is forever asking forgiveness for failing to deliver on these core principles, while holding power through By-laws that are inherently undemocratic. The chorus of “We’re sorry,” just isn’t good enough for the thousands of small business people, baristas, warehouse people, technicians, and farmers, who rely on the organization’s good judgement in support of them and their families. Consumers who think about such things have come to rely on the specialty coffee trade association in North America as a fountainhead of pro-consumer attitudes and activism. SCA-logoIn that SCAA was unique among trade associations in any industry. All that is in jeopardy now as the association, in its universal international form, careens forward, only opening its mouth to change feet. The membership deserves what the trade had at its birth, an organization representing the membership based on liberal democratic principles that suited the culture, and sensitivities of its members.

Our Canadian brothers and sisters in good coffee are leading the way back toward our fundamental principles. The Canadian chapter of SCA has said it will not participate in world coffee championship events in Dubai, and Brazil in 2018. A statement signed by Canadian SCA coordinators says in part, ““We believe our community is worth more than deferment requests and qualifying circumstances. As a Chapter, we must stand for human rights for all.”

The Barista Guild of America Executive Council has said, in a statement adding to the growing opposition to the SCA Dubai venue decision, and Deferred Candidate Policy, “To be notified, along with our community, that SCA [Specialty Coffee Association] and World Coffee Events has decided to host several of our annual World Coffee Championships in a city built on modern-day slave labor, within a federal monarchy where laws, policies, and behavioral norms stand to alienate and endanger those in our community who identify as LGBTIQ, women, and/or those who might adhere to particular religious beliefs is unacceptable. We do NOT support this decision.” In additionThe BGEC has posted a statement on website, referencing the Deferred Candidate Policy, writing, “we are shocked and oppose this solution. We feel strongly that the lack of transparency around how these decisions were made, as well as how they were communicated, have both been significant disservices to our membership.”

According to BGA, the new SCA Individual Barista Membership category makes up about 35% of the SCA global membership. Barista Guild has indicated that, “Barista Guild Executive Council is creating an Equity, Diversity Inclusion (EDI) Committee within the BGA, which was in development prior to the Dubai brouhaha. This Guild, made up of some of our youngest, most talented, and dedicated members of the trade, are pathfinding into the future for specialty coffee. We would do well to lend them our ears.

The cry of unsustainable practices, lack of transparency, and insensitivity we are hearing over current leadership decisions, are echoes of similar charges made in recent years by the associations past presidents, and several of its living Lifetime Achievement Laureates on other issues. It is unfortunate that two years in the leadership still hasn’t heard the cries of the membership. They still continue undaunted on the path they have chosen for themselves and for us. It’s sad really.

The question is whether a world body, without consideration for the will of so large a portion of its membership, can long govern so diverse a community as specialty coffee, while at the same time being so insensitive to natural laws, and human rights


In that talk on human rights, sixty years ago, Eleanor Roosevelt went on to say, “Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.” I can only hope that the trade association of the trade we all love comes around to understand and embrace the universal truth that the “First Lady of the world” understood instinctively.

I wish you all the best of the season, good coffee, and good luck.

Donald N. Schoenholt


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