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10 March, 2006

How much for these warm fuzzies?

The presence of a 'Fairtrade' logo on an item pretty much guarantees that I won't buy it, for three main reasons.

  • Retailers feel able to slap premium prices on such goods, for no justifiable reason. There is no reason to think the objective quality of a Fairtrade item is superior, and the extra profit from the higher prices doesn't go to the producers, so purchasers are merely being taxed for their hippie idealism. I don't object to middle-class smugness being penalised, but flatter myself that I'm less gullible.
  • I neither share the stated values nor especially respect them – Fairtrade is tokenism, which I don't believe will have a worthwhile widespread effect.
  • I object to the morality of others being imposed on me. Maybe it's irrational, but the very fact of being told what to do repels me.
Above all, I'm convinced that a majority of British purchasers of Fairtrade goods do so to be seen to be acting 'ethically', for complacently self-righteous reasons. It's a lifestyle-image issue, not one of morality. Hence, Fairtrade is no more than a marketing exercise directed at affluent consumers, ultimately exploiting both producers and purchasers.

Prof. Rob Paton of the Open University describes an alternate view, that, even if flawed, Fairtrade exemplifies broader, long-term trends of global governance and social enterprise (see his article for definitions). He may even be right, but firstly, I don't think that justifies participating in a flawed system as a route to 'something better' – fix Fairtrade first – and secondly, discussion of a 'value-based economy' strays into quasi-religious issues of 'right' and 'wrong', and I'm not a believer.

It seems that at last others are starting to question their assumptions, too. This evening the BBC's Money Programme will broadcast an investigation into the market sector. It might be interesting, though I'm conscious that it might just reinforce my prejudices.

Did you know that Nestlé, subject to an international boycott for selling powdered baby milk in developing nations, has Fairtrade status?


The money programme seemed to exactly state many of your concerns. Having read the blog post after the programme, I was very interested by it all.

Posted by dan at March 11, 2006 12:17 AM
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