In a previous article, I made the curious observation that coffee has become a lightning rod for social and environmental angst in a way that is disproportionate with just about any other export. (As if nobody buys children’s toys or clothing from Wal-Mart.) As a point of comparison, I noted that while we obsess over Fair Trade causes, sustainability, and social ethics in our coffee cups, “consumers seem free to buy the Sri Lankan Child Labor Exploitation Blend with impunity — no questions asked.”

'If this is tea, please bring me some coffee.'Some readers thought I was making this up. Yet according to a report in today’s NewKerala.com, a popular online Indian news site, coffee plantation workers in India earn an average of 32% more than their tea plantation counterparts: Rubber plantations workers make more money than coffee-tea labourers @ NewKerala.Com News Channel. Something tells me there are a lot of militant Fair Trade coffee advocates at tea salons, sipping their feel-good oolong, blissfully ignorant of the disconnect.

UPDATE: May 10, 2013
In light of this month’s horrific garment factory collapse outside of Dhaka, Bangladesh that killed over 1,000 workers, Foreign Policy raised this very question we asked six years ago: When it comes to ethics, why do consumers care more about coffee than clothes? | FP Passport. The general thinking, based on a few cited studies, is that “the complex supply chain in retailing made it easier for consumers to justify poor labor practices.”

This still doesn’t explain why coffee and not tea raises this level of ethical concern.