In January 2014, CEO & Co-Founder Paul Katzeff traveled to Africa to meet with two of our producer cooperatives. In this blog series, Paul shares his experience in Uganda and Rwanda.
The duplicity of The Coexist Foundation was ever on my mind while in Uganda. I felt betrayed by two young men in Washington DC. Tarek and Lance are the leaders of The Coexist Foundation. They came to us in early 2013, seeking a collaboration with the Thanksgiving Coffee Company. They presented the idea that they market and sell Mirembe Kawomera coffee in a coexist package. We were excited to have them come on board as promoters of this Interfaith Cooperatives coffee which we saw as our primary responsibility. Roasting the coffee for others to market and sell to their congregations, members and followers.
“Coexist came to us in early 2013, seeking a collaboration with the Thanksgiving Coffee Company.”
It has been a decade since we began promoting Mirembe Kawomera Coffee, and we have invested many hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring this story to the coffee world. Tarek and Lance, in numerous emails and phone conversations both encouraged and worried us as we moved forward with their private label package. We loved the idea that they were investing in a fully printed package, but we worried about their unwillingness to present Thanksgiving Coffee as the decade long carrier of the torch and promoter of the story and developer of the supply chain that created the improved quality we now roast. But we forged on with Coexist as they gave assurances to us that their only interest was to sell the coffee to raise funds for the school in Mbale.
When we were told that the 250 mystery sacks were sold to the Coexist Foundation by the cooperative two months before we arrived in Uganda, the mystery was no longer who were the bags of coffee for, but now the questions were; how did this happen, why did it happen, and what were the consequences going to be for this double betrayal of Thanksgiving by both the Cooperative and The Coexist Foundation.
The conversations led to these discoveries:
- The Coexist Foundation had used the film makers of the Documentary “Delicious Peace “, Ellen and Kurt to set up their own Film project and then sent a five person film crew with a script, to Mbale to create The Coexist Foundation Story of their discovery and adoption of this cooperative. Their video tells the story as if Thanksgiving Coffee never existed these past ten years.
- The president of the PKC Board had negotiated with the Coexist Foundation to sell this coffee without informing many on the Coop’s Board and in fact, there were no records of this coffee being purchased from the PKC coffee farmer members.
- Coexist had purchased coffee that could not be shown to be Certified Organic and was certainly not Fair Trade certified. They had paid a price that was far below the price Thanksgiving Coffee had paid for this years crop according to their General Manager.
- There was nothing we could do about the situation because the money had exchanged hands already.
“Our Story was being re-filmed and revised to replace our Brand with Coexists Brand.”
I concluded that our decade of work had been hijacked. Our Story was being re-filmed and revised to replace our Brand with Coexists Brand. They believed they could buy media, legal services and a coffee supply chain that Thanksgiving Coffee company had developed over a decade of investment in time, travel, expertise, and money to create. What to do was the question on my mind in Uganda on day 8. I could walk away from this Interfaith Story and punish the cooperative for their moral decay. I could confront Coexist and threaten to expose their deception and unethical business practices to their Board of Trustees, I could redouble my efforts to strengthen the PKC cooperative now that we had a ability to discuss all issues with openness and transparency. One thing for sure, I was going to stop in Washington DC on my way back to California to confront Terek and Lance and lay down my threats to expose them.
To make it real, here is a link to Coexists Current Blog. It tells the story as if cutting out the middle man (Direct Trade) was a good thing. But this is their way of justifying cutting out the Company that invested its money and time to develop this story. There is no mention of Thanksgiving Coffee whatsoever. They are spinning ” Direct Trade” as something that benefits farmers by putting more money in their pockets, but Coexist paid substantially less to the cooperative saving money so they could be more competitive on their wholesale price to their customers. In their eyes, Thanksgiving Coffee was a Middleman in the supply chain, instead of the creator and financial supporter of the chain.
The last chapter in this story is being written now and will be posted soon.
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Here are links to the first 8 parts of this ongoing story:
Intro – I’m going to Africa
Day 1 – Arriving in Uganda
Day 2 – Dancing, Mango Trees & the Dry Mill
Day 3 – On the Road
Day 4 – Transparency, Trust & Relationships
Day 5 – Coffee Quality & A New Mystery