Globalisation: fair trade

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In 1949 President Truman addressed the citizens of the United States of America saying; “More than half the people in this world are living in conditions approaching misery. Their poverty is a handicap and a threat both to them and to more prosperous areas. … What we envisage is a program of development based on the concepts of democratic fair dealing…” (Kiely  1998, p25). However 61 years on 20,000 people a day are dying from the effects of hunger, studies have shown that in developing countries there are 790 million hungry people (Madely, 2000). Quite frankly this is unacceptable.

So why is that countries that have millions of starving people are exporting food to countries that are witnessing epidemic rates of obesity? What sort of system would allow an eight year old child to work “before light… seven days a week “  (McDougall, 2010) in one part of the world, while in another  another boy attends school and indulges in many luxuries the other can only dream of? In March of this year the times revealed that in Madagascar over two million children are at work on the vanilla farms in Madagascar; thus Madagascan children are forfeiting  rights to  education,  childhood and a future, while Western children indulge in ice-cream; the system that allows this is ‘free-trade’.

Some argue that the capitalist system  pursues profit, cheap labour and available resources without the consideration of the consequences it has on those it exploits; it is difficult to disagree with this; what other explanation could one find for the exploitation of a child and a system that feeds from the vulnerable.  Fairtrade is a movement created in response to trade liberalisation. Fairtrade aims and objectives include securing a “better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world” (Fairtrade, 2010). It does so by requiring companies to pay sustainable prices which are not allowed to fall below the market price. Fairtrade “addresses the in injustices of conventional trade, which traditionally discriminates against the poorest and weakest producers. It enables them to improve their position and have more control over their lives” (Fairtrade, 2010). The Fairtrade movement has become a widely debated phenomenon with critics divided. There is no doubt on the products ever growing popularity; one in  two adults in the UK now recognize the brands kite marked symbol (Barrientos & Smith, 2007, p106), and the guardian recently reported that sales were up by 43% in 2008; however one wonders how effective a system can be whilst its operating under the very system it was set up to challenge?

Looking at recent articles in leading British broadsheets from 2008 and 2009, all report on British consumers growing appetite for Fairtrade products. Both the Times and the Guardian reported the encouraging sales figures of the product, both highlight the government’s decision to provide the organisation with £12 million to subsidise its products. The Independent inform that when the movement first began people were humoured by its notion that it could infiltrate “the profit-hungry world of retail”(Lockley, 2008), yet the recent sales figures reveal that consumers “take the issue very seriously”(Lockley, 2008); it also revealed how several powerful retailers such as Sainsburys, Tate & Lyle, Waitrose and Marks and Spencers had stepped up their commitment to the brand, what one found particular encouraging from the Independent was the example of how Fairtrade had proved successful in the Iriaini tea plantations in Kenya’s central province, whom since joining the movement have witnessed their income increase by a third, and had been able to pay schooling fees and healthcare costs. The telegraph again discusses the brands growing success declaring it as one of the fastest growing retail sectors in Britain, whilst the Financial Times  informs on the latest retailer to jump on the fairtrade bandwagon: Cadbury; surely only a positive contribution to the brand?

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It would appear not. Whilst all articles speak of the brand’s success, all have focused on the ineffectiveness of the movement’s ability to eliminate poverty. TheGuardian’s article ‘Not so fair trade’ addresses the debate of whether the movement is an “essential safety net that helps poor farmers earn a better living” or whether it is just an example of “western feel-good tokenism that holds back modernisation and entrenches agrarian poverty?” (Chambers, 2009)  This would appear a rhetorical question since much of Chambers article focuses on the flaws of the Fairtrade organisation. He reports upon three common debates concerning  Fairtrade: Is ...

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