03 April 2007

Half a Cheer for Fair Trade

"The fair trade movement claims that the products it provides are sourced “justly” and that purchasing fair trade products brings economic benefits for the poor. Whilst it is clear that fair trade might bring some benefits to particular groups, whether it brings significant net benefits to the poor in general is questionable. Moreover, the claim that fair trade transactions are more “just” cannot be substantiated. Customers also might be surprised to learn that the majority of the Fairtrade Foundation’s income is spent on promoting its own brand."
So begin Philip Booth and Linda Whetstone in the new Institute of Economic Affairs Current Controversies Paper Half a Cheer for Fair Trade.  They conclude: "Fair trade may be fashionable and give people a nice warm feeling but only free trade backed up by the rule of law and the protection of private property have actually lifted entire populations out of poverty for the long term."  As I said last week, it seems buying the right coffee is no longer sufficient.


Julia C said...

I think "Half a cheer" is a good way of putting it. At least we can be assured that our Fairtrade chocolate doesn't rely on beans harvested by child slaves! But I think most of us are hoping to achieve more than that. I think Fairtrade has, and certainly had, it's place, but lets not sit on our laurels. It's time to we were working for the next target - a genuinely level playing field for developing countries and international pressure for governments to take responsibility for their citizens' civil and economic rights.

MikeC said...

All sounds eminently sensible to me. Whilst we in the West can think all is okay as long as we're buying fair trade, we are probably working on the subconscious assumption that all those producing the fair trade goods are subject to the same protections we are afforded by way of our system of democratic government. This isn't the case, and more needs to be done to highlight it.