Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Why fair trade isn't really fair.
We all want to or try to make the most ethical choice when we buy our coffee or cocoa etc so we buy fairtrade thinking to our selves -"Hey, at least that poor farmer/grower isn't getting ripped off". And we go away and eat the yummy chocolate and it really is the best chocolate we've ever eaten in our lives and we're happy because we hope that by us buying the chocolate/coffee someone somewhere is getting treated fairly and they can feed their family and maybe their family's family and we're also happy that a big corporation is not benefiting from our chocolate eating (except if you are eating Green and Black fairtrade chocolate that has been bought out by Cadbury!)
I have been thinking a great deal about fair trade since writing papers on (ineffective) aid delivery to Papua New Guinea. What started my thinking about fairtrade was the constant description of 'poor' PNG communities that were always described as 'reliant on subsistence farming for survival' in a negative light. And for a while I went along with it. I thought "Yeah, these poor Papua New Guineans are only surviving on the food they can grow". But it dawned upon me that the alternative to subsistence farming was much worse (fairtrade or not) - cash crops.
Cash Crops are usually a first world market driven enterprise. When you rationalize cash crops in comparison to subsistence farming it's ludicrous. Eg. In another country they love to drink this yukky drink that we don't drink so I will pull up my vegetable plot and chicken run and plant as many coffee plants as possible and sell them to people who will sell it overseas and with this money I can buy all the food I would have originally grown myself had I not pulled them up to buy coffee (I do not mean to sound patronizing to Papua New Guineans as I think that the pressure to cash crop is largely coming from the ludicrous but often well-meaning developed world)
I do understand that there would be a financial surplus in cash-cropping but such a surplus
does not equate to the subsequent community and intrinsic value of growing one's own food (eg fulfillment, community building through bartering and local markets etc.)
The facilitation of fairtrade on a macro or micro scale is often driven by a developed world market with underlying capitalist agendas. Cash crops and other fair trade arrangements may very well fall through once peak oil becomes a more tangible reality. What hope is then left for both the developed and developing world when the reversal of globalization takes place? It may be a return to subsistence farming on a global level and those who are successful in growing food for survival will not be looked upon as the poor- that is certain.
As someone who is interested in overseas aid development programs I hope to encourage and equip individual/communities to relearn skills in growing their own food and gardens both in Australia and abroad. I hope to build sustainable (there goes that word...) projects, that is projects are not reliant upon a capitalist econmic market that is very precarious/volatile. But projects that look at local needs and skills.
Thanks for trudging through this lengthy piece. Let me known what you think about Fair/unfair trade.