Posts Tagged ‘lohas’

Fair Trade turns from a movement into a brand

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

Guilt-free indulgence

We stopped buying chocolate after seeing a March 2010 BBC Panorama report about child slavery on cocoa plantations in western Africa. Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire produce 60 percent of the world’s cocoa, and much of the picking is done by children who are sold to plantations by their impoverished parents or human traffickers. Some cooperatives that had been approved for Fair Trade status were later found to have used child labor and suspended from receiving the designation by the Fair Trade Foundation. That meant their cocoa could not be used in chocolate that received the Fair Trade label, which indicates that production followed certain standards and producers were being paid a “fair” price for their wares. The BBC’s point was that almost any chocolate that did not bear the Fair Trade label was likely to have been produced by slave labor.

Once or twice a year, however, we do buy Fair Trade chocolate from People Tree Japan through a local food cooperative. People Tree is a non-profit group that specializes in Fair Trade products from all over the world. According to the organization’s literature, the cocoa that goes into their chocolate bars is produced in various South American countries and Ghana, and then processed in Switzerland under the People Tree brand. Shipments of the chocolate to People Tree are not continuous. When the NPO receives a periodic shipment they announce it through their various distributors, and apparently stocks sell out rather quickly. The chocolate isn’t cheap: ¥290 for a 50-gram bar. At your local supermarket you can buy the same size chocolate bar made by Meiji, Morinaga or any other major confectionery company for as low as ¥100. Does the People Tree chocolate taste better? That’s a matter of personal preference, but chocolate is chocolate. In any case, it’s apparent that people buy it because of the Fair Trade label.

Continue reading about Fair Trade products →

Annals of Cheap: Super Hotel

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

The new Super Hotel in Okachimachi, which opens Apr. 29

The new Super Hotel in Okachimachi, which opens April 29

A government-sponsored marketing conference called Service Productivity and Innovation for Growth conducted a survey in Japan earlier this year that attracted some 100,000 respondents, who were supplied with the names of 291 service-related companies comprising 29 industry sectors. They were asked to rate these companies for 100 separate criteria in order to determine “high customer satisfaction.” The number one company, with 82.3 average points, was Oriental Land, which runs Tokyo Disneyland.

At number 13 was Super Hotel, the highest ranking accommodation-related business (though Oriental Land does operate Disney Resorts), even higher than the Imperial Hotel. In a way, it’s an unfair comparison. The infamously expensive Imperial is a “city hotel” while Super Hotel runs a chain of 94 “business hotels.” Anyone who has stayed in both knows the difference: city hotels stress comfort while business hotels stress convenience and economy.

However, even among business hotels Super is special, which explains its high rating. People were just surprised at how good it was for the price, and the price is pretty amazing: as low as ¥4,900 a night for a single room, including breakfast (Japanese or Western). In most of the bigger cities the price is comparably more expensive, but not much. Tokyo, for instance, has nine Super Hotels (10 on Apr. 29, when the Super Hotel in Okachimachi opens), the most expensive of which is in Shimbashi (¥9,000 single) and the cheapest of which is Kameido (¥6,490 single). And when you start going to double and triple rooms, called Super Rooms, the savings get better. A single at the Hakodate Super Hotel is ¥5,480, a double is ¥7,480, and a triple ¥8,480. If you reserve a single room for a whole month in Hakodate you can get it for ¥3,980 a day.

Is it worth it? If you’ve ever stayed at a business hotel, with their tiny windows, plastic “unit baths” and lack of elbow room, you know what to expect, but Super Hotels, which started in Osaka in 1989, offers a little bit more because of its policy of not sweating the extraneous stuff. All the beds are semi-doubles, 34 of the hotels have free public baths (which tend to get raves from regulars), and many rooms have free Internet access. The extraneous stuff they feel you can do without include air conditioning in the elevators and hallways, personnel (the front desk is only manned, depending on the hotel, from 7-10 a.m. and 3-12 p.m.), and guest room telephones. Also, guests prepay for their rooms, usually via vending machines in the lobby, and many of the hotels do not take credit cards.

But Super Hotels is obviously a progressive company. Several branches have rooms and even floors that are exclusively for female guests, and two hotels, one in Fuji City and another in Takamatsu, are completely smoke-free. Also, some are aiming for the tourist market, like the Super Hotel in Nara, with a more upscale atmosphere built around the eco-marketing concept called Lohas.

Super Hotel also has an English Web site.


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