Billericay - Fairtrade Town
Fairtrade Fortnight has come and gone for another year and I hope you saw the full article in the Billericay Gazette covering the town’s fairtrade status launch. I am aware that there are some people who do not agree that the Movement is as useful as it is made out to be, so I was interested when the following article from The Guardian Newspaper and headed “Is Fairtrade doing more harm than good?”, was passed to me by a member of Christ Church with the suggestion to share it through the pages of Spotlight:
“The provocative rightwing Adam Smith Institute has investigated Fairtrade and found – shock! – it’s doing more harm than good. The rational free market economists, nappy trained on Milton Friedman and Margaret Thatcher say the popular system of paying a bonus to producers in poor countries and guaranteeing them an above-market price for their produce, helps only a very small number of farmers, favours some growers over others, pays inefficient cooperative farms and discourages mechanisation. Even worse, they add, it allows UK supermarket chains to profit more from the higher price of Fairtrade goods than the farmers themselves.
This is seductive but misleading. In a perfect world, with no trade barriers or subsidies or future markets or middle men, these academic points would be telling. But the free-trade system, which the Adam Smith Institute prefers and in which western consumers and small farmers must work, is heavily skewed against the poor. At the last count nearly 2 billion farmers were unable to get a decent price for their goods and were earning less than $2 a day, something which might also be called “unfair”.
Fairtrade is not perfect. It was only ever an inspiring idea to try to channel more money to producers in developing countries and many people hold their nose when they see Tesco and other retailers making more money out of selling a fairly traded chocolate bar than the family who might have spent days labouring in the field to produce it.
But the extra cash that goes to the cooperative does help. Some groups use it to provide their old people with minimal pensions, others use it to pay for school fees or increase their pay. The point is the group members choose what they want to do with the extra money democratically. And nearly 7 million people – farmers, workers and their families – in 59 countries now benefit.
Tellingly, nobody is forced to join a Fairtrade organisation, or to buy such products, so you might think that free market advocates such as the Adam Smith Institute would be happy to see the expansion of individual choice it provides.” By John Vidal
I have drawn attention to the commercial film “Black Gold” before. Brian and I have seen it twice and we now have our own DVD copy. This film is about Tadessa Meskela, an Ethiopian man who does his best to find a better price for the coffee growing farmers in Oromia Coffee Farmers’ Co-operative Union, which he manages, than what is currently available from the London and New York commodity exchanges, where coffee is the second most actively traded commodity in the world after oil. He makes the case for Fairtrade involvement. The film contrasts the lives of the coffee growers with those of the people who drink thousands of cups of coffee a year in the Western world with, maybe, no thought for the growers. We see Ethiopian families with under nourished children and lack of education, farmers who decide to grow “chat” (a narcotic which fetches a higher price than coffee) instead and tons of grain from America as aid. Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee. It is stated very clearly that Ethiopians would rather be able to trade in a market without strings attached than receive aid. The film ended with scenes of American grain being bagged in Djibouti interspersed with the following stark facts:
Africa is now more dependent on emergency aid than ever before. Over the last 20 years, Africa’s share of world trade has fallen to 1%. If Africa’s share of world trade increased by one percentage point it would generate a further 70 billion dollars a year – five times the amount the continent now receives in aid.
I hope that we can arrange for this film to be shown in our church sometime but if anyone would like to borrow the DVD (running time 78 minutes) from us, please do ask. The film makers wanted a film which, while having a political purpose, was not overly controversial; a film which was observational and paced in a way that gives the audience the space to connect emotionally to the story. The film certainly does that.