But what ‘support’ do communities in the developing world receive as a result of all this Fairtrade business in Britain and elsewhere in the West? The idea is that Fairtrade-stamped products only use ingredients that are created and traded fairly in the developing world. Yet in 2005, the youth education charity WORLDwrite produced a film called The Bitter Aftertaste, which highlighted the severe limitations of the Fairtrade movement. The Fairtrade movement has no policy on mechanisation in farming, for example, and its restrictions on the use of pesticides in any product from the Third World that it licenses means that many Africans are locked into back-breaking cheap labour as they cull weeds by hand rather than being able to destroy them with chemicals.That's what Fairtrade is really about, giving a bunch of rich Western consumers a whole lot of warm fuzzes. To hell with what it does to the third world.
In The Bitter Aftertaste, Alex Singleton of the Adam Smith Institute highlighted the tendency of those involved in the Fairtrade movement to believe that ‘there’s something romantic and attractive about agriculture’. Actually, Singleton argued, the Fairtrade movement squanders labour, locking workers in developing countries into labour-intensive methods of farming: ‘In Guatemala you have 500 people producing the same amount that in Brazil five people are able to produce.’ (10) It is this unproductive labour, the use of primitive forms of technology and no fertilisers, which makes the end product, ‘natural’ and ‘fair’, desirable to some Western consumers.
As well as encouraging certain forms of farming, the Fairtrade industry in the West keeps parts of the developing world in a non-diversifying, non-developing straitjacket. The Economist has pointed out that if there is a price guarantee on Fairtrade goods, then there is little incentive to diversify or move on amongst poor Third World communities. Indeed, the salary increases for Third World farmers if they adopt Fairtrade methods – which are very small salary increases, but nonetheless desirable for already very poor farming communities – encourage farming communities always to focus on producing the same thing, with the same methods, rather than to venture into other forms of agriculture or grow other crops (11). The Fairtrade Foundation says it ensures the ‘sustainability’ of small, local industries in the developing world – yes, but largely by taking away any incentive to grow and do farming differently.
Furthermore, as The Economist observes, ‘[Fairtrade] certification is available only to co-operatives of small producers, who are deemed to be most likely to give workers a fair deal when deciding how to spend the Fairtrade premium’. Small, for the Fairtrade Foundation, is beautiful. Indeed, rather than looking for ways to increase large-scale production of crops in order to mitigate future food shortages, like those we saw last year, the future, according to the Fairtrade Foundation report The Global Food Crisis and Fairtrade: Small Farmers, Big Solutions?, is small. As Harriet Lamb, CEO of the Fairtrade Foundation, said: ‘We’re calling on all major players to put smallholders at the heart of their agricultural policies.’ (12) This militates against any collectivisation of labour power or shift towards large-scale production – the kind of developments that occurred in Western nations more than a hundred years ago and upon which modern societies are largely built.
The breakdown of the Fairtrade Foundation’s expenditure is telling. In 2008, it spent £2,128,000 on ‘public education and awareness’, more than it gave to producer and product support (13). This sums up what Fairtrade is really all about: educating the public and making us feel better rather than significantly changing conditions in the developing world. As one Fairtrade slogan puts it: ‘Good Coffee, Good Feeling.’ Fairtrade is really about flattering Western consumers, making us feel like we are making a difference; as one newspaper put it when Cadbury’s announced it was going Fairtrade: ‘Good news: eating bars of Dairy Milk is no longer greedy – it’s snacking with a social conscience.’ (14)
Friday, 7 August 2009
Patrick Hayes writing at spiked says Sorry, but Fairtrade is a political issue. Hayes writes,