That was the question they were asking on Channel 4 news. They had a guy from the Adam Smith Institute, and he reckoned fair trade was doing more harm than good. Seems crazy? Well, sometimes things seem crazy at first sight because they are crazy!
There seemed to be two main points, and one prescription:
- Fair trade diverts resources from where they are most needed. Mexico, which is comparatively rich (as less-rich countries go) gets a disproportionate slice of the "Fair Trade" market -- and the money is needed more by poor producers in Ethiopia than not-so-poor producers in Mexico. He did not discuss how much of any extra "unfair" trade in Ethiopia might actually get to the producers.
- The other argument was that Fair Trade distracts people from things like European farm subsidies, which cause more poverty than mere unfair payments to producers.
The Fair Trade representative pointed out that Fair Trade in all cases benefits the producers, and gives them a fair, living wage, whether in Ethiopia, Mexico, or elsewhere. He pointed out that there are Fair Trade goods from Ethiopia too.
Wouldn't it be better to have more Fair Trade in very poor countries, rather than less of it in fairly poor countries?
He also mentioned that the Make Poverty History campaign was trying to tackle institutions and systems that keep people and countries in poverty, and prevent them from helping themselves. They encourage people to contact their politicians about the issues. That will make a difference - it already has - but it will take a while. In the mean time, buying Fair Trade goods is something that we can do now and make a difference right away!
The interviewer got to the heart of the issue when he asked: "are you just using this fair trade issue as an excuse to push your free trade agenda?"
Of course I could buy more Fair Trade goods - but I still have to find a Fair Trade coffee that I like as much as the stuff where they flog the growers. And I have the sneaking suspicion that the supermarkets are pocketing too big a share of the fairtrade price hike.