autonomous futures

We are what we eat & fairtrade
March 4, 2008, 10:35 pm
Filed under: reflective log

Today we had our session on food with Alice.  One of the most interesting aspects of the session was a bit of a heated discussion on the (de)merits of Fairtrade certifications and products.  I used to do a lot of campaigning around these issues so it was quite a flashback for me.

I suppose in many ways it is the typical reform vs. radical debate.  I’ve been to enough presentations, met enough farmers and read enough reports to know that Fairtrade has made a real difference to many communities.  Sustainable agricultural practices are encouraged and most producers are organised in cooperatives.  Farmers are guarded against the worst fluctuations of the market system.  Clearly, all of these are good things.

But how much is any of it worth so long as we all remain locked into global, neoliberal capitalism?  Does it only add legitimacy and the hope of reform to a wholly unreformable system?  How about the fact that most Fairtrade products are cash crops like coffee, sugar and bananas, while farmers continue to struggle to buy food they could be growing themselves?  How about the food miles disguised as ethical consumerism?

Giving Fairtrade certification to a Nestle product was the last straw for me.  They’re still flogging overpriced powdered milk to mother’s in Africa and yet the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation has allowed them to bask in the Fairtrade glow.  I never thought Fairtrade would change the world, but it did seem like an effective and inspiring way to start teaching people about trade (in)justice.  For me, it has outlived its usefulness.


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