Fair Trade is Not Enough

Fair Trade is Not Enough

The point of Fair Trade Waterloo is not to have more Fair Trade Certified products move off the shelves or to make shopping for groceries a more pleasant experience for people concerned with the state of the world. Fair Trade Certified itself is one small way to start thinking about the problem of global inequality. It is certainly not a silver bullet for solving humanities problem, but it provides a good starting place for building a community consciousness around trade justice issues. The goal of Fair Trade Waterloo is to have every consumer in the Waterloo region think not only about the price, quality, and branding of the products they are buying, but to consider also the realities on the production side of that product. Addressing this great separation between consumers and where their stuff comes from and goes to when it's used, and in general the disconnect between our own perceptions of the world and what's really going on in all corners of the world, is central to tackling the apathy and powerlessness that plagues developed society and allows us to leave so much of mankind suffering needlessly.

Below are outlined some of the major arguments against fair trade certified. This is not featured to try and deflate the enthusiasm Fair Trade Waterloo has for creating positive change, but to introduce the deeper problems that must be kept in mind while trying to move forward on social and trade justice issues.

Fair Trade is the commoditization of rights

Fair Trade products are a feel-good buy because you are assured that the workers producing the products are working in decent conditions, making a good living, and improving their communities. However, these are basic rights that all workers should have anyway. They should be enforced by government or simply held as a universal standard that all people will use. They should not have to be bought and sold like any other brand. They should not be subjected to the market demand of people in cash-rich countries. By even having Fair Trade as a separate thing, we are making a two-tier system of human rights in our mind of us who may be benevolent enough to choose to buy fair trade and those others who may be lucky enough to benefit from it. This way of thinking lacks the solidarity required to really understand international labour issues and promote dignified, systemic solutions.

Fair Trade doesn't help the poorest of the poor

Because Fair Trade International must administer audits and labelling to ensure the products really are produced under the conditions they claim they are (note there are compliance issues, as with any regulation), the fees and access to communication involved typically exclude the very poorest farmers. This is a barrier to entry in the Fair Trade Market that is currently excluding most farmers. However, if it is demonstrable that Fair Trade is something that consumers are demanding and if community building around fair trade in one area stimulates local economies enough to spread, we should see Fair Trade reaching more people.

Fair Trade is for consumers, not producers

Fair trade serves as a way for people to placate their concerns with the trade system in general. It may claim to guarantee better conditions for a few people, but it makes people in developed countries happy with their effort while preserving the dominant geo-economic paradigms. For instance, you can buy a Fair Trade Certified chocolate bar, but still it will be made from cocoa produced in a cash-poor country and then processed in a cash-rich country who will make the most money off it, due to things like tariffs on manufactured goods that make industrialization economically infeasible in places like Cote D'Ivoire or Ghana where most cocoa is produced.