from Pantperthog to Knockando

Monday, March 02, 2009

And reason number 10 why Peter Griffiths was wrong…

My good lady wife reminded me of another assertion by Peter Griffiths at The Great Fair Trade Debate which either completely missed the point or was a deliberate misrepresentation (your call).

10) Peter Griffiths claimed that fair trade is about paying higher prices so that some of the money goes to the producer. Again, not quite right. Some fairly traded products are more expensive than unfairly traded equivalents. But then many companies who trade, even in this country, tend to drive the hardest bargain they can. Promising one price, then offering a lower price at harvest time is one classic trick.

But what about those fairly traded products that are cheaper than their equivalents? They do exist. What’s going on there, in Peter Griffiths’ view of the fair trade world?

If fairly traded products do cost more, there are often a number of different reasons for that. Trying to trade across geopolitical trade tariffs and barriers are reasons for higher prices. Simple economies of scale play a part too. Nestle dominate the world coffee market and can drive down their prices if they want to (guess whether they do or not), but they also have their own packaging plants and can fill chartered planes with coffee. They don’t have to pay a third party to have their coffee packaged and transported, so it’s cheaper for them to get the coffee to market.

Plus, ‘fair trade’ is more than just ‘we pay more money’. Yes, sometimes there is a ‘fair-trade premium’. But at its heart, ‘fair trade’ is about sustainable relationships – where the buyers pay the agreed-on negotiated price and don’t try to wiggle out of it later, where long-term trading relationships matter, and where producers are often paid some of the money upfront so they don’t have to go into debt while the crops are growing or the products are being made.

Thinking that ‘fair trade’ is all about money, and not realising that actually it is a life-affirming dynamic, is the kind of error made by the kind of person who doesn’t understand that human beings trade with other human beings – and trade is just one of many human relationships. Or, to put it another way, the kind of person who extrapolates behaviour based on the premise that everyone behaves like automatons, then wonders why there complex models don’t work in the real world. Or, to put it a third way, a person who is a classically trained economist.

And just to set the record straight, because my good lady wife told me I’d got one of my facts wrong, the chap from the Windward Islands wasn’t actually from a co-operative. He was a member of the Windward Islands Farmers Association (WINFA), which works on behalf of the farmers e.g. to get the Fair Trade Mark on their bananas.

But even if he wasn’t from a co-operative, he still (rightly) took offence at Peter Griffiths’ assertion that someone in the developing world would automatically steal if they had the opportunity. But then that statement was based on an anecdote, and according to Peter Griffiths, anecdotes don’t count as evidence…

And finally…
I stood up and said something at the debate, challenging Peter Griffiths on a couple of these things. Obviously when I sat down I thought of several more things I could have said. That always happens.

Anyway, Cath has told me that she met people at a fair trade fair at the weekend who commented that what I said was helpful. When she went into the shop at the weekend, one of her co-workers said that she’d heard I’d stood up and made a good point. Fame.

But my encouragement to you is speak up and speak out in those situations where you just know you have to speak up and speak out.

Take courage, because other people want to, and will love the fact that you have.

And the more of us who do it, the more other people will.

And the brighter we shine, the more we roll the darkness back.

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