The fair trade logo is slapped on some of our favourite products; from fairtrade items like coffee cola & chocolate, but what does it stand for? Put simply, fair trade is a social movement that negotiates prices higher than the market average for goods produced in developing nations. Fair-trade is a new concept to most of us who may have only heard of the concept in the 1990's when Starbucks partnered with the Fair Trade Foundation, yet the idea has been discussed since the 1940's and was first introduced in the 1980's when a Dutch development company, Solidaridad began buying Mexican coffee at a higher price than its competitors. Solidaridad was represented by Max Havelaar, a cartoon who lived during the age of the Dutch East India Company's heyday, but stood against the conquest of the Americas: a suitable symbol for the monumental shift that fair trade represented.
However, paying more is just a small portion of what companies whom subscribe to the fair-trade initiative must also stand behind. These principals according to the fair trade initiative, are as follows: create opportunities for poor producers, maintain transparent relationships, build capacity, promote fair trade, pay fairly and on-time, fight to improve working conditions, oppose child labour, spread environmental stewardship, and to respect cultural differentiation. Ambitious as these tenants may be, critics from both the right and left side of the political spectrum have claimed that fair trade is either ineffective or destructive to the market system. According to the Adam Smith Institute, Fair-Trade restricts growth by injecting assistance into the market system, and thus interferes with natural competition. French Economist, Chrisian Jacquiau, argued from a leftist standpoint that Fair-Trade excuses the unfair market system by reverting costs back to customers; when serious market overhaul is the only solution to trade inequalities.
Despite criticism, Fair-Trade publicity has proved lucrative, and fair trade product sales continue to grow, reaching £800m for the year 2009 in the UK alone. For a programme that has only been mainstreamed for just over 20 years, this is fantastic success. On the other end of the transaction, the Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International estimated that over 7.5 million producers have benefitted from fair-trade business, either financially or politically. While fair trade continues to spread both in terms of publicity and economic success, we must wait to see if whether Fair-Trade is an effective means for expediting third world development, or if it is another coy advertising tool which will only perpetuate the gap between the rich and poor.
Vizualle. "Fair Trade Federation." 2010
Author - Mary Grace Wyville
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