New Internationalist

Have your say… on the future of fair trade

Nestlé – until recently the fair trade movement’s most vehement detractor - has been awarded the fair trade mark for its ‘Partner’s Blend’ coffee. Supermarkets are bringing out own-brand fair trade lines in direct competition with the pioneering fair trade companies who allow producers a say in how they are run and a share of the profits. ‘Ethical’ companies who’ve made their name by doing business differently are being bought up by the same old dominant transnationals. Ultimately, fair trade producers are still tied into supplying low-value raw commodities to Western companies who capture most of the value further down the supply chain. So how much is fair trade really challenging the unfair dynamics of the global economy?

The dilemmas thrown up by its extraordinary success are sparking major debates within the fair trade movement. Should big business be allowed to benefit from being associated with the fair trade brand when the majority of their operations remain as exploitative as ever? Is this a foot in the door that will herald a revolution in the way the corporate big boys conduct their business, or a kick in the teeth for a movement that started out to create a radical alternative to the carnage caused by the free market?

Has anyone asked the farmers, some of whom are starting to feel marginalised within their own system? What about the environment: should we really be importing fair trade roses grown in huge hothouses next to Kenya’s Lake Naivasha, sucking up precious water resources and then being air-freighted to Northern supermarkets?

The NI wants to encourage everyone who cares about making the economic relationships between rich and poor fairer to engage with this debate. What do you think about the future of fair trade? Have your say...

Here are some views from people involved in the fair trade movement:

‘Awareness about fair trade and therefore the acceptance that there is unfair trade has been enormous. But the concept of solidarity, which was at the heart of fair trade as it existed before labelling started, has somehow been lost. So it’s possible for you to buy a fair trade product without you having any sense of engagement or involvement with the producer community.'

Stan Thekaekara, founder of Just Change which links communities in India and around the world and encourages them to trade amongst themselves. www.justchangeindia.com

‘The movement should be more open about the fact that fair trade is not yet going far enough towards achieving true economic justice. It should focus more on achieving structural political change. We cannot let our radical vision of a completely different way of doing business be watered down by opportunistic multinationals. It is our responsibility to ensure fair trade does not lose its soul.’

Albert Tucker, former Director of Twin Trading, now working with the Latin American fair trade producers’ network (CLAC) on the future of fair trade. www.twin.org.uk

‘We thought this fair trade would help us escape the practices of companies like Nestlé. How can it be that they are now a fair trade company, buying a tiny amount, while their practices on the whole remain as exploitative as ever?’

Nicaraguan coffee farmer, CLAC. www.clac-pequenosproductores.org

‘We were always going to have to work with other companies. Watering down of standards just wouldn’t happen. They are our heart, they are sacrosanct…Our job is to make fair trade incredibly simple for people, to break out beyond the NGO sector and reach the everyday customer. We’ve set our sights high. We want to change the way people think about how they shop. If you’re going to do that, you’ve got to play with the big boys. It’s an incredible step for Nestlé, one of the four biggest companies, to recognize the values of fair trade.’

Harriet Lamb, Director, Fairtrade Foundation UK. www.fairtrade.org.uk

‘Fair trade is a European phenomenon. It’s just replacing the middleman, so that now middle class NGOs can get a piece of the capitalist action. Perhaps “fair trade” is a description of the colour of their skin?’

Firoze Manji, co-Director of Fahamu, a pan-African organization supporting the struggle for human rights and social justice in Africa. www.fahamu.org

‘For better or worse, as soon as Dunkin’ Donuts has fair trade espresso it does open doors. It's a mistake to discount the impact of things just because you don’t agree with the motives of the people doing it.’

Pauline Tiffen, co-founder of fair trade companies Cafédirect and Divine chocolate, now working for the World Bank. www.divinechocolate.com

‘I represent growers on the board of Cafédirect. We are asking them for some capital so that instead of sending our tea to a factory we can own our own factory. When you are exporting tea leaves you only get 5 per cent of the profit, but if you own the factory the profit is about 40 per cent.’

Lazaro Mwakajila, Chairman of the Rungwe Small Tea Growers’ Association in Tanzania. www.cafedirect.co.uk

[NOTE: We are deeply saddened to hear that Aggrey Lazaro Mwakajila has recently passed away. There is a tribute page on the Cafédirect website at: www.cafedirect.co.uk/news.php/000178.html where you can learn more about him and his contribution to the fair trade movement.]

'The term "fair trade" is a ridiculous over-exaggeration. It's not right to say the relationships are fair - they are not. The consumer lives in a different world from that of the producer in terms of opportunity, wealth, freedom, healthcare, etc. We need a much more profound change in the world before we can honestly stand before a producer and say that our relationship with one another is "fair".'

Roy Scott, One Village, which since 1979 has sold craft-made articles for the home in partnership with craftmakers' cooperatives. www.onevillage.org

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