Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Fair Trade Month

October is Fair Trade Month.
Fair Trade is important because conventional "free trade" often leaves farmers and artisans living in extreme poverty, sometimes even facing malnutrition and starvation when world market prices swing dramatically. These are the conditions that have led in some cases to the use of illegal child labor, including child slave labor, and to the use of unsustainable environmental practices such as cutting down trees in the rainforest.

Fair Trade, by contrast, ensures that farmers and artisans are paid a living wage, and that the products they produce aren't made in sweatshops or by exploited child laborers. Fair Trade also promotes production techniques that will not harm the environment.
Now how can supporting that be a bad thing?

"Well, workers in those countries are just happy to have a job at all. They won't strive for something better." Okay. So we'll keep their morale nice and low so that they never imagine that something better is possible.

"Well, the method of farming in places like Guatamala is simply inferior to the way that many free trade companies produce their coffee." And giving developing countries no chance to improve their methods will fix the problem how...?

"Well, Fair Trade gives an unfair advantage to smaller producers." And tariffs and subsidies by developed countries don't give an unfair advantage to big freaking corporations?  Plus if one of the big coffee companies goes under, the government might consider bailing them out.  So not to worry. [/sarcasm]

"Well, you're just paying more money to make yourself feel better." The other side of this is paying less and completely ignoring the labor problems and exploitation in developing countries. I suppose ignorance truly is bliss. Maybe this isn't the perfect solution, but it's better than the whole "doing absolutely nothing" strategy.

Happy Fair Trade Month.