issue 204 - February 1990
Photo: Marion Kaplan
The dice are loaded against traders from the Third World -
and most of us are not in a position to change the rules of the game.
But small organizations all over the West have started to trade
in a very different way. Here Graham Young explains how they work -
and the NI introduces some of the key groups in its readers' countries.
Back in the heady days of student revolt and social idealism in the 1960s, it was already clear that it was going to take more than just aid to deal effectively with poverty in the Third World. Activists looked for new solutions. An increase in spending on development education at home by aid agencies was one response. Another was the alternative trading movement.
This new movement was rooted in Western people's sense of their own complicity in the underdevelopment of the Third World. The problems of world development are not just 'over there'. Many are caused, or at least exacerbated, by factors 'over here'. The terms of trade provided the classic example. You know the sort of thing. A tractor which cost five tons of Tanzanian tea in 1973 cost double that 10 years later. The less developed countries were (and still are) running just to stand still. It is nothing short of hypocrisy to give aid from the surplus we make out of an unequal and abused power relationship. Or to put it another way, 'Don't buy my harvest cheap and offer me charity'. However, international trade was also seen as a primary engine of development so it would not have been appropriate simply to withdraw.
Some people lobbied and campaigned about the injustices of trade; some educated. Others attempted to get more directly involved: 'Let's try and do something about the lousy deal that producers in the Third World get'. They set up their own companies to trade with the Third World on a fairer basis.
The International Federation for Alternative Trade (IFAT) now has the names of some 40 Western organizations from North America, Europe, Australasia and Japan. There are still more who are trying to develop the same principles but from a base in the developing world.
The products sold by these alternative trading organizations (ATOs) vary considerably from group to group. Overall they include crafts, both decorative and utilitarian; foodstuffs, particularly coffee and tea; and textiles, both as clothes and household goods. Some extend their ranges by selling non-Third World goods such as recycled paper.
The sales channels also vary. Some are based very firmly on local action groups who have ultimately joined a national organization. They sell through their local groups' shops. Others have started from a national base and developed locally a movement of volunteer representatives. A few sell through their own shops or mail order. Some act as wholesalers to commercial outlets. And there are some which do all of these things.
Wherever they are based, they share four basic principles agreed at the most recent IFAT conference. They aim to:
· co-operate with the poor and oppressed in Third World countries, to improve living conditions mainly by promoting trade in products from those countries
· provide information when selling products, to increase awareness of unfair international structures
· reflect in their own structures a commitment to justice, fair employment, public accountability and progressive working practices.
· campaign for fairer trade.
Around these principles there is a huge diversity but there are broadly two kinds of ATO. One sort takes the producers as its starting point and will try to sell whatever they produce. This sounds good in principle but it means you can end up with some rather unusual or unsuitable products - and it may not help in the process of awareness raising.
The other kind of ATO is orientated towards the Western market, keeping a clear eye on the selling potential. These organizations will work with producers to meet a particular market niche. The drawback here is that the desires of the producer can get lost in the process.
The best must lie somewhere in between - and a lot of ATOs occupy this middle territory. But alternative trading is not just about selling products in order to provide jobs in the Third World. I'd say it also means:
· buying from groups who have social as well as financial objectives and who are not necessarily the cheapest
· assisting producers with designs, helping them realistically price their products (often leading to a price rise), organizing stock control and paying in advance with interest-free loans
· sticking with producers during hard times, social unrest, adverse weather conditions and even dishonesty
· spending money on raising awareness in the West by means of campaigning and education at the point of sale
· trying to operate fair business practice in your home operation
· doing justice, but more than that - going further than might justly be expected. In my own organization, Traideraft, we use the phrase 'acting in love and justice'. This reflects our Christian roots but it is also a useful way of describing the general concept.
All of this has to take place in a fiercely commercial world where profit is the arbiter of success. ATOs have to make a profit but if you want to judge their success you will have to look at more than just the bottom line. How are the producers with whom they work developing? How much of a force are they in awareness raising? The difficulty for ATOs is not to use their social objectives as an excuse for inefficiency.
This is a live issue in the movement at present. Some people believe that as ATOs become increasingly professional they are losing touch with their own roots: Third World producers and Western volunteers. But others believe, as I do, that becoming more efficient and professional is necessary if we are to prove we can make a difference to international trading relationships.
Graham Young works for Traidcraft, the second biggest ATO in the UK.
Address: Kingsway, Gateshead, Tyne & Wear, NE11 ONE.
Tel: 091 491 0591.
International Federation for Alternative Trade
P0 Box 2703, 1000 CS Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
IFAT will provide a comprehensive list of ATOs in your country: what appears below is only a selection.
|AOTEAROA/ NEW ZEALAND|
PO Box 18620,
Chrlstchurch. Tel: 887 016.
Trade Aid is the only non-profit alternative trading organization in Aotearoa. It started importing in 1973. It aims to promote economic justice by trading fairly while at the same time educating its own workers and the rest of Aotearoa about trading injustices and their causes.
Trade Aid employs a system of positive discrimination, giving small co-operatives (especially women's co-ops) an opportunity to sell their products, It pre-pays many of its craft producer groups (some as much as 12 months in advance) so that they can buy raw materials for production. It also checks out cultural festivals, local traditions and agricultural cycles to avoid putting undue pressure on producers.
One of Trade Aid's principles is now fighting injustice within Aotearoa as well as overseas. It has sought out alliances with local Maori co-operatives. One of these, Tula, was formed less than two years ago within the prison walls of Paparua and is made up exclusively of young Maori offenders. The members of Tula formed their own unique rehabilitation programme, carving bone earrings and pendants. Trade Aid has taken on the dual role of potential exporter and marketing agent, and in this sense it now faces the same problems as its own producer partners in India or Kenya.
World Development Tea Co-operative
P0 Box A559, Sydney South,
NSW 2000. Tel: 02.281.6822.
Also P0 Box 117, Fitzroy,
VIC 3056. Tel: 03419 5588.
The Tea Co-op began operation in the mid-1970s and grew out of concerns raised by UNCTAD. It imports a range of pure Ceylon teas from Sri Lanka which it markets under the 'Trade Winds' label. All value-added processing to the tea occurs in that country. Tea users are encouraged to look at the other goods they buy and how Third World producers are affected by the market and import systems in place, The Co-op stresses that it is important for people to learn that problems of world trade are complex, that they have a long history, and that structural change is difficult.
101 Young Street, Annandale,
NSW 2038. Tel: 025693666.
Trading Partners has links with 26 Third World countries. It deals directly with local producer groups, paying the price they determine and never bartering. There are no middle managers. They offer Third World producers advice on export procedures, quality standards, design and selling, and ensure that all items are produced with integrity to local traditions. Australian sale prices are based on the original purchase price plus costs. All goods are sold through a volunteer network. Trading Partners always talks about craft in the broader context of culture, not just that of trade.
P0 Box 104, Enmore,
NSW 2042. Tel: 02516 5722.
CAA Trading has had so much success that it can't keep up with demand from Third World producers asking the organization to take their products! A spin-off from the major aid agency, this trading operation started ten years ago and now has 11 shops and a mail-order division. It imports goods from southern Asia, Africa and Latin America, with the major sources being India, Thailand and the Philippines. Aboriginal groups also supply a range of products. CAA see considerable scope for expansion.
424 Parkdale Aye,
Ottawa, Ontario K1Y 9Z9.
Canada's main alternative trading operation is owned by Oxfam Canada. Bridgehead distributes a wide range of Third World products - Nicaraguan coffee. Andean crafts, native Canadian wild rice, Mozambican cashews. Products are not supplied by transnationals but by 'artisan groups and farmers' co-operatives working to improve living conditions for their families and communities'. Catalogue on request.
345 Goswell Road, London
EC1V 7JT. Tel: 01 837 8222/3/4
Twin Trading helps Third World organizations to engage successfully in international trade, often for the first time. It enables producers to improve the quality and standards of their products, to do more of the processing and refining, to be responsible for packaging, transportation and export, to do their own repairs, to develop their own technical infrastructure and manufacturing capacity. This kind of aid generates independence and encourages local initiative and control. It is, much more than aid, a way forward to real development.
Campaign Coffee Scotland
29 Nicolson Square,
Edinburgh EH8 9BX. Tel: 031 667 0905.
Imports and markets foodstuffs from Nicaragua, Mexico and the Front Line States of Southern Africa and is currently helping to encourage exports from Palestine. Believes that individual consumers can make decisions affecting persecuted peoples and emphasizes the benefits of 'ethical' products and positive choices.
Murdock Road, Bicester,
Oxon 0X6 7RF Tel: 0869 245011.
Oxfam Trading is the largest alternative trading organization in the UK with sales of £11 million per year, largely through Oxfam shops and mail order. 55 per cent of their sales are of products from small enterprises throughout the Third World which are committed to economic and social justice. Oxfam Trading staff and consultants also provide design, marketing and other forms of practical assistance.
Friends of the Third World
611 West Wayne Street, Fort Wayne,
This group does wholesale distribution of crafts and food from the Third World and poor groups in the US. It has 11 outlets and is eager to assist others in setting up stores. Friends has a bookstore and stresses education on Third World issues.
Pueblo to People
1616 Montrose Street, Houston,
Texas 77006. Tel: 800 843 5257.
This group sells crafts and food products from Latin American producers at fair prices mainly through a mail-order catalogue. Pueblo also handles development education products and materials.