Fairtrade are making an awful lot of hullaballoo about making a million and one swap outs over the course of a week – they want a million and one iterations of customers replacing their normal bananas, chocolates, coffee and whatever else, with the Fairtrade equivalent.
And gosh, isn’t that a worthy idea? I mean, everyone knows that Fairtrade gives farmers more money and is generally a good thing. Or something like that.
But as usual, the truth is slightly different from the marketing illusion:
Fairtrade effectively ensures that people “get charity as long as they stay producing the crops that have locked them into poverty”. Fairtrade reduces the incentive to diversify crop production and encourages the utilisation of resources on marginal land that could be better employed for other produce. The organisation also appears wedded to an image of a notional anti-modernist rural idyll. Farm units must remain small and family run, while modern farming techniques (mechanisation, economies of scale, pesticides, genetic modification etc) are sidelined or even actively discouraged.
Fairtrade director of communications Barbara Cowther admitted in the documentary A Bitter Aftertaste that the organisation had no real policy on mechanisation – this despite the fact that it is central to agricultural development.
By guaranteeing a minimum price, Fairtrade also encourages market oversupply, which depresses global commodity prices. This locks Fairtrade farmers into greater Fairtrade dependency and further impoverishes farmers outside the Fairtrade umbrella. Economist Tyler Cowen describes this as the “parallel exploitation coffee sector”.
Coffee farms must not be more than 12 acres in size and they are not allowed to employ any full-time workers. This means that during harvest season migrant workers must be employed on short-term contracts. These rural poor are therefore expressly excluded from the stability of long-term employment by Fairtrade rules.
I have been described as “a heartless sociopath” because I do not subscribe to the modern fantasy that it doesn’t matter what happens as long as your motives for doing what you do are kind and noble. Here we have some kind-hearted, generous people promoting a scheme that locks its members into poverty and non-members into even worse poverty, yet they are lauded for their actions, while my suggestions that we should just get out of the way and stop trying to help them and just buy what they sell gets me branded as horrid, unkind and deranged.
The world’s a funny place, really.
- First Class posts on Monday Letters From A Tory
- March 1, 2010 at 22:25