Sunday, March 02, 2008


According to my good 'Christianity with attitude' colleague Giles Fraser, writing in the Church Times, the Adam Smith Institute - which I mentioned critically recently - has "just exploded a bomb under Fairtrade Fortnight" by asking whether fair trade is really efficacious, or whether it is just another way of well-meaning liberals keeping the poor in poverty. I agree with Giles that tough questions need to be asked, but the ones ASI poses are really not very new (Thatcherites were saying the same thing in the 1980s) and instantiating them without also looking at the manifest failures of trickle-down theory, the 'green revolution', what really happened with commodities in the 1980s and 1990s, and the other myths of 'salvation by free markets' is less bold than it claims.

Giles' article, Is Fairtrade the same as fair?, is worth reading. But I fear that in his swing from the command-economy left, he may too readily be falling prey to the blandishments of another kind of ideology. I wrote a 'quick response' for FinS, but it turned out to be an article. So it has now been published on Ekklesia as Fairness, trade and free market ideology.


Karin said...

I heard someone from the Adam Smith Institute and someone from the Fairtrade Foundation talking about this on the radio and I was disappointed with the Fairtrade spokesman's response. He (or was it a she?) was quite defensive rather than admitting that fair trade only helps a very few people and can never be the whole answer. We do need something better. We need a global trading system based on justice for all and fair trade can make some people feel complacent about that. Plenty of people will tell you they support Fairtrade - in theory at least - but mention Trade Justice and people are no longer interested.

Simon Barrow said...

I completely agree with you, Karin. FTF seems to think that if it raises the wider issues in ways that suggest limits to its work, then the media will leap on this and say "ah, see, they admit it doesn't make much difference." I think that's a flawed strategy, if that is what's going on. But I certainly understand the dilemma. Of course the ASI opposes the rest of the Trade Justice agenda, too. I much prefer to talk of Fair*er* Trade, frankly - since there is still considerable systemic inequality based on the revised practices.

Karin said...

Yes, fairer trade is a more accurate description.