In the other can only dream of?

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?

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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 i?? 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? 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 it locking farmers into poverty through incentivising an unsustainable industry? Is the brand further impoverishing farmers outside the umbrella? And just how much of the sale price makes it back to the producer?

The article from the Times again like Guardian’s spends little time discussing the merits of Fairtrade but the majority debating its ineffectiveness. Stephen Pollard writing on the behalf the Times almost goes as far as dismissing Fairtrade, claiming the mechanism of free trade that will beat poverty. Pollard’s key argument is that Fairtrade is correct in as much as trade is the answer to poverty, however feels one’s time would be wiser employed protesting for the removal of trade tariffs in the Western world. Like Chambers, Pollard is addressing the debate of whether incentivising agriculture is locking farmers into poverty; Pollard maintains that trade barriers are the cause of poverty since they keep developing countries resources in low-return industry such as farming.

The telegraph’s Richard Gray raises some grave concerns about the damaging effects Fairtrade is having upon some of the poorest parts of the world. Across Africa, Asia and Latin America there are over one billion people living in absolute poverty, and while Fairtrade originally set out to improve the lives of these people, journalist Gray argues they’re products “do not aid long-term economic development” (2008) and the movement is failing in its efforts. Again Gray addresses several reoccurring debates namely: ‘Fairtrade is sustaining uncompetitive farming methods’, ‘how much of the premium is actually reaching farmers’ , ‘is Fairtrade actually worsening the situation of the poorest of the poor?

‘ and ‘Is Fairtrade merely a marketing tool to ease Western consumer’s guilt? ‘; although many of the broadsheets have positively reported on the growth of Fairtrade, and the encouraging news when big brands give support such as ‘Tate and Lyle’ whom have promised as much as 40 percent of the price each bag of sugar sold will make its way back to producers in Belize, there tends to be a common debate regarding the movement amongst the broadsheets. Looking at the Independent again it presents a strongly adverse discourse regarding Fairtrade. The argument carriers more weight since it’s reporters Measure and Bloomfield travelled to Kenya to witness first hand the devastation ‘free trade’ has had on the third world.

Again Measure and Bloomfield discuss the debate of “how much of the price finds its way back to the grower”, and they question the reasoning behind why multi-national corporations like Sainsburys are supporting the brand; concluding quite simply its due to the higher profit margin the products enjoy and that it provides a useful ‘marketing tool’; this has come to be known as the halo effect by critics. One finds it difficult to see anything other than greed for the motivation of multi-nationals such as Tesco, Sainsburys, and Nestle; it would appear that the broadsheets too find it difficult responding to this debate without the same scepticism. Skapinker for the financial Times recently reported on Cadbury’s uptake with Fairtrade.


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