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Coffee and conscience
In your magazine on Coffee you show how the public is starved of choice when it comes to buying fair-traded coffee. If this is the case, then the answer partly lies in making fair-traded coffee taste better. The public is unlikely to pay conscience money forever. If there are too many middlemen/women then the answer is to have producers’ co-operatives in the South and consumers’ co-operatives in the North which could trade directly with each other. If the problem is that the world price is too volatile due to weather or over-production then the answer lies partly in having a ‘set-aside’ policy and producers’ co-operation for price stabilization. The co-operatives have about 12.5 per cent of the retail trade in the UK. What is the share of fair-trade products and how prominently are they displayed in Co-ops?
In the long run the answer is in product quality, good marketing, co-operation among producers and direct trade between well-organized co-operatives North and South. Not in conscience money.
In the central Fact Spread in your issue on Women (NI 270) you come up with just one statement on education. You say ‘90 million girls have no education at all...’ This is, I would suggest, a very North-biased statement and culturally insensitive. Schooling does not necessarily educate someone very well, and just because someone has not been to school they are not ‘uneducated’. They may not be able to read and write, but every girl and every boy in every culture receives education. Why is the North’s concept of education as being given by strangers outside the family any more valid than the traditional values of the South where education is given within the family?
Perhaps one of the reasons why women are left out of development planning and the mainstream of so many activities is because we have a very North-oriented (and possibly male-oriented?) idea that education means schooling.
Perhaps you could show cultural sensitivity to the millions who could never read your magazine by rethinking the implications of using the word education in the conventional way.
I felt dismayed when I read your issue on Women (NI 270) that you did not feature all women. I am a disabled woman and I experienced my invisibility as I read your material. Where am I? Where are disabled women globally?
To talk of oppression in its various forms across the world and omit a huge group of women who are oppressed is to represent only part of the debate.
My first emotion was one of anger but that was soon replaced with sadness. It seems we have reached 1995 and are approaching a new century and still disabled women do not see their experience expressed in magazines which should have more awareness.
Last night on the Bob Monkhouse show, he referred to female spiders eating the male after mating. Some women in the audience cheered and clapped. It is revolting. You seem to be on that side and I do not like it.
To most of the contributors to your issue on Women (NI 270) feminism presupposes support for abortion on demand. Surely there must be some feminists besides myself who feel that it is bad for the image of people who claim to support the human rights of the ‘underbitch’ to advocate the killing of people because their existence is inconvenient (like suttee widows?) After all, many people who are not at all feminist want easy abortion – not least men who want to escape the attentions of the Child Support Agency.
Please note that I don’t condone violence against abortion practitioners any more than as a paid-up member of the RSPCA I would condone the antics of the Animal Liberation Front!
I’m glad you made the point in your issue on Hunger (NI 267) that countries like Britain are not self-sufficient in food; I think the goal of becoming as near-independent as possible in this and other respects is important for morale, for the creation of employment and also for reasons of basic security. My friends in India sometimes quote the words of the former US Minister of Agriculture, Earl Butz: ‘Food is a weapon’ – and cite some machinations of the multinationals as an example.
I wish you would take an interest in the Ok Tedi mine in Papua New Guinea. Newspaper reports say that BHP, an Australian mining company which controls the mine, persuaded the PNG Government to pass a law which would criminalize any legal action seeking compensation for the environmental and health damage caused by the mine. The draft act even contains provision that legal action against the legality of the law itself would be a crime.
This infringes people’s fundamental right to seek legal remedy for a damage imposed on them, not to mention the right to a sound living environment.
It is hardly necessary to mention the PNG Government’s reputation in the brutal Bougainville conflict, which also involves copper mines.
Could you please tell me why there seems to be no coverage of Sierra Leone in the NI? Here in Canada there is almost no media reporting of the civil war that is currently taking place.
The children of our school, through their Student Parliament, have been working with the staff and children of Port Loko Catholic Secondary School in Sierra Leone for the past three years. They have exchanged letters, photos and tapes, and most recently we were able to help them build a well. Last month we found out that 22 of the children had been taken hostage by armed rebels and that one child had been burned alive. We found this out in a letter the Principal managed to get to us, even though the Post Office had been destroyed.
Please try to look at this small, desperately poor country and its wonderfully optimistic struggling citizens soon. They deserve your support.
Victoria Harbour Public School, Ontario, Canada
Ed: We are working on a Country Profile at this very moment!
Thanks to the many readers who wrote in with suggestions for future issues which will all be fed into the Co-op’s discussions at our Annual Editorial Meeting. Thanks too to those who filled in the Reader’s Survey – we had a large number of returns which will help us to make the magazine more as you want it...
|The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist|
To boldly go
Returning to Moscow from holiday, Olivia Ward pauses
to consider some great Russian paradoxes.
I pass through the clean, well-lighted portal of British Air and enter a grave new world.
Of course I’m prepared for it. I’ve been in this country for three years, and no horrifying event is entirely unexpected. But for all that, there is something in the knees that quivers when venturing out into the dim, dank-smelling corridor that leads strangers into the vast double-continent of Russia.
I can understand how babies are disgruntled with the world from birth when they are delivered to the nasty, antiseptic rooms where people greet them with a hearty slap. Emerging in the twilight world of Moscow’s international airport, Sheremetievo-2, one waits for the blow to fall.
Down we plunge, step by dirty step, into the prison-like pit where most élite travellers lose their identity and merge with the huddled masses. At the head of the crowd are tiny booths where young unsmiling clerks in military uniform sit glowering over the credentials of betrayed officials in the days of the great Stalinist terror.
Standing under an unblinking fluorescent bar affixed to the booth, I wonder if it is some sort of truth device, forcing me to babble whatever treasonous thoughts make me unacceptable for a stay in this country. Then, at the moment of despair, the miraculous sound of a metal stamp signals release.
It is not a blessed release, however, as I totter wearily into a dim baggage area that should carry a warning sign: ‘All hope abandon, ye who enter here.’
‘No baggage carts’ shrugged a clerk sitting in the corner where the ancient creaking objects used to be tethered like arthritic sled dogs.
There were no carts because the canny but energetic free-enterprisers who used to recycle them from the parking lot for a fat fee have been purged from the airport. Now a wonderful new system is to be installed. In the meantime another free-enterpriser has made off with the old ones, leaving people like me, with a year’s supply of books, gifts and clerical supplies from abroad, to make the best of it.
All around me foreigners were wringing their hands, while Russians adopted the skilled stoicism of long history. One took off his coat and slid it under two heavy bags, dragging them triumphantly towards the customs hall. Another made a mysterious arrangement with an idle floor-sweeper, who no doubt felt redundant after the first passenger’s success in moving the day’s quota of dust.
The richest muttered into cell phones attached at the other end to the ears of their drivers who barged purposefully past customs officials to rescue their masters and mistresses.
But it was the general lack of fuss that impressed me most, as it always impresses me among beleaguered Russians. Communism, which did so much to take away initiative, also helped to create it in people whose backs were perpetually to the wall.
It’s one of the great Russian paradoxes that a country brilliant enough to put men and women in space also puts them in a daily rage with the shoddiness of the consumer goods it turns out. The huge influx of imported goods is a vote of non-confidence in Russian products, which have nevertheless created generations of adept handy-persons.
For better and worse, the age of choice is dawning on Russia, and with it a new generation of people who expect something in life. Some day the children who wait in line with their parents in this dismal airport may be ushered through at a normal pace, with courteous service, real lighting and all the amenities of civilization. They may be less self-reliant but also less self-effacing.
This is my one comforting thought as I stand with my bulging bags, gathering breath to kick and shove them out into the crowded arrival hall built for the days when only the lucky few could travel.
Surfacing, I join the swirling mass of people struggling back and forth like a vision of the country today. Smart women in designer coats, rapacious taxi-drivers in reeking T-shirts, hard-faced entrepreneurs, elderly people blinded by the light as they emerge from the inner dimness.
We’re all caught, pushing against each other, not knowing whether we’ll ever reach our destinations. Behind us, the dark and the old. Ahead, we don’t know what. The only choice is to keep going. To boldly go.
Olivia Ward is bureau chief for the Toronto Star in Moscow.
©Copyright: New Internationalist 1995