Fairtrade As A Solution
Let’s stop wrecking lives with the shit we buy.
We’re agreed the world is hateful and awful and full of scumbag shitheels. There’s a lot to fight, a lot to fix, a lot of turd to polish. We need systemic change to right the hardwired wrongs that put people in sweatshops, pay them a pittance and let them live and die in misery. But while we’re joining campaigns and waiting for their effects to kick in, we can lean on our power as individuals. We can buy Fairtrade.
What’s the what?
The Fairtrade movement kicked off in the early 90s when various do-gooders – yer Oxfam, yer Christian Aid, yer World Development Movement – responded to Mexican coffee farmers who were campaigning to not be screwed over by Big Bidness. They set up the Fairtrade Foundation with the idea we could pay producers enough for them to cover the cost of production, pay workers enough for them to buy food and clothes and send their children to school, and quit paying for sweatshops and child labour. The idea spread. A few years later Fairtrade International was set up to coordinate a bunch of Fairtrade initiatives in a bunch of different countries.
To meet the Fairtrade standard and earn the Fairtrade stamp, buyers, suppliers and manufacturers must ensure producers are paid enough to cover their average costs of sustainable production; provide an extra premium to be invested in projects for social, economic and environmental development; provide pre-financing for producers who need it; ensure all production is environmentally sustainable; and not go anywhere near forced labour or child labour. Here we have a way to buy stuff without being evil to each other.
Make the world go round
People who like money like money. People who like money more than they like people will do anything to get it. We’ve seen them kidnap and enslave people to get it. We’ve seen them cram people into sweatshops, force children into hard labour, build death-traps for lols. We’ve seen them cheat and lie and steal and poison and hurt and kill to get it. We can use that against them. If they’ll do anything for money, they’ll even treat their fellow humans as actual humans if they have to. If they see our money getting away from them.
The Fairtrade movement started out with one bar of chocolate. There’s now 30,000 Fairtrade product lines knocking about the planet, every one of them meeting the demands of Fairtrade certification. Where Fairtrade was once an obscure speciality of small, independent, ethical companies, once it was clear there was money to be made the big corporations got stuck in. Starbucks is one of the biggest buyers of Fairtrade coffee in the world. Sweatshop distributor Primark flogs Fairtrade-certified beauty stuff. Supermarkets keen to look like they give a shit have made it so one in three bananas sold in the UK is Fairtrtade. Cadbury gave it a go for a while, turning the UK’s best-selling chocolate bar Fairtrade and making consumers support it regardless of whether they cared. There was a time when even arch bastards Nestlé got stuck in, though they’ve since ditched it and realigned their principles to not having any.
It’s not sincere. It’s not changing the way they’re doing business elsewhere. It’s not turning hearts of stone into flesh and blood. But for the individuals on the receiving end of their corporate virtue-signalling horseshit it’s a better deal than the life-ruining terms other people are getting. The Fairtrade market brings in billions of pounds every year. In 2020 alone, Fairtrade farmers and workers took in £147 million just from the Fairtrade Premium – the extra top up that wouldn’t be there without Fairtrade certification. That’s not misty-eyed, lets-put-on-a-show optimism. That’s something real. We moved our money to the moral high ground and the moneygrubbers followed it, however unwillingly.
There’s plenty of criticism of Fairtrade, obviously, because we’re living in a festering hellscape of multi-tiered miseries. It’s a sidecar to capitalist exploitation rather than a revolutionary replacement for it. It’s the same old pyramid scheme with the pointy bits sanded down a little. It’s got the vibe of the benevolent millionaire throwing a bone to the people making them rich. It’s unclear about how much of a product’s retail price gets back to its producers. In working with monsters like Nestlé it snuck its way into the mainstream but risked humanising monsters like Nestlé. In giving premiums to producers it risks tying them to low-profit sectors. And it puts much of the do-gooding on consumers rather than the big corporations making their bid for the Fairtrade label, meaning only people who can afford to pay a bit extra will be able to do so.
There’s also a distinct lack of clarity now Big Bidness is chasing the money, though that;s not Fairtrade’s fault. Cadbury and Nestlé have both ditched Fairtrade International, setting up their own knock offs. Cadbury now bigs up its Cocoa Life scheme. Nestlé has its Nestlé Cocoa Plan. McDonald’s has its Sustainability Improvement Platform. Sainsburys ditched Fairtrade for its own-brand tea, bringing in its own “Fairly Traded” label. Where the Fairtrade logo once brought a degree of certainty, now every other company’s got its own Shiny Happy Super Good Time Pledge that requires its own research as consumers reach for the shelves. Maybe Fairtrade’s revolutionised these companies. Maybe they’ve sincerely applied its principles to their practices. Maybe Lucy will hold the ball for Charlie Brown this time. Maybe. But we know better than to trust these arseholes.
Fairtrade isn’t the solution. It isn’t perfect. It isn’t the future we want to see; it’s not radical enough for that. But every time we need to buy something in the fucked up system we’ve got right now, we can either buy something that’s Fairtrade or its more exploitative equivalent. It’s a half-decent stop gap solution. It’s a sticking plaster. But when you’re gushing blood a plaster does the job, on the way to getting fixed up for keeps.
Photo credit: The Zero (header image)
Having graduated from the Bond Villain School of Bastards and Bastardry, Nestlé, the world’s biggest food and drinks company, apparently set out to also be the world’s biggest contributor to infant mortality, aggressively marketing its baby milk substitute in countries where the water used to make it was so filthy it killed babies…
Say what you like about climate change, it takes a lot of hard work. Wilfully destroying the planet, triggering climate breakdown and bringing on irreversible mass extinction takes effort and sticktoitiveness. It takes constant vigilance, lest we accidentally find ourselves reducing our kamikaze carbon emissions. Fortunately, humans are always working, always innovating. Always coming up with new ways to wipe ourselves out.
Something big might possibly have happened, maybe. As climate breakdown kicks off and the sixth mass extinction continues, the genocidal capitalists behind it all might finally be getting what for.
Dumb as we are, humans are still finding new ways to wipe out life on earth. The latest wheeze is deep sea mining, in which genocidal capitalists hunt for minerals and metals by tearing up the seabed, demolishing fragile undersea ecosystems we’ve barely begun to explore or understand. Add to this our love of chronic overfishing, plastic pollution and coral bleaching, and we’re properly giving the oceans what for. Which is a shame, given they’re currently keeping us alive.
It was at six dark forty on the 13th October 2020 that there was a great disturbance in the Twittersphere, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in pissy consternation and were, unfortunately, not suddenly silenced. Then it was that Apple announced they would start shipping phones without power adapters and earbuds.
It feels like we’re about due an update on the No More Page 3 campaign. It’s been six weeks since I added my influential signature to the petition to rid The Sun of its tits and yet the quickest of flicks through the paper indicates up to ten nipples a week are still featuring prominently. Indeed, this week marked the beginning of 2012’s Page 3 Idol in which members of the public are invited to display their breasts in the hope of winning a grisly five grand and a shot at a long-term career in tit display. If ever there was any doubt that The Sun encourages its readers to judge women on the quality and condition of their breasts, here we have an competition in which its readers are actually encouraged to judge women on the quality and condition of their breasts.
So there I was, all ready to announce Kiva as the Chazza of the Month for a second non-consecutive time when what should appear but a classic spot of Zero angst? You’ll recall how Kiva is a microfinance outfit offering loans to people in developing countries and how I’ve bigged them up a couple of times already. But after that last rant about payday lenders being arseholes the worries I’ve had about microfinance went from being vague floaty things at the back of my mind to being slightly less vague, marginally firmer things on a list of other things to consider thinking about at some point in time when I can be bothered.
It’s fair to say I’ve been banging on a bit about poverty recently, what with all those articles about the government assault on welfare and charities covering the gaps and such and such, and while this sentence started out with the intention of apologising for all my banging on it’s looking more like ending on a justification for it because banging on’s what you get for me being around poverty all day and everyone else voting Tory. Poverty, as I was saying, is shit.
Half the adult population of the planet has breasts, a fact the other half’s been struggling with for quite some time. Now, I don’t need to bang on about patriarchy and the objectification of women in much detail, partly because I’ve done it enough already and partly because it’s obvious and everywhere. It’s there in our horrific record on domestic violence, in the difference in salaries for women and men, in the difference in pocket money for girls and boys, in the attitude that says a man’s a player and a woman’s a slag, in pornography that casts women as sluts to be simultaneously lusted after and looked down on, in the pornification of pop culture that has singers writhing in bikinis to sell records, in the mutilation of women’s bodies pumped full of silicone and collagen and numbed with botox. Turns out I needed to bang on about it all.