FairTrade thoughts

The talk at St Lukes this morning was an introduction to FairTrade by Geoff Crawford – a fantastic photographer who has visited loads of fairtrade projects and co-operatives around the globe in his role as photomonkey for various aid agencies and fairtrade associations. He pitched the talk perfectly, and kept it to his central theme, which was about the difference that buying fairtrade produce makes to the people who make or grow it, how buying fairtrade coffee directly impacts the lives of coffee growers, and he gave some good pointers for people wanting to start thinking about such things, as well as lists of coffeeshops that stock fairtrade coffee and supermarkets that stock fairtrade produce.

It’s a discussion that could easily have been derailed by some very valid other discussions, about supermarket monopolies, fairtrade imported goods vs the food-miles argument of how far something has to travel to end up on your plate and the damage that transport process does, etc. Those are really important subjects, but a 20 minute talk in a church service wasn’t the place to have them.

What he also avoided was the notion of boycotts – with labeling it as such, he took the same path that I’ve been thinking about in regard to shopping of late – that of seeing everything you buy as an investment.

The problem with thinking of boycotts is that the surface value expressed in the action is that of damaging the profits of the company you’re boycotting. There have been notable examples of this working and starting to affect company policy… or at least marketing policy – Shell oil, Barclays bank and Nestle have all at times taken a major hit through boycotts, and have altered as a result. Not enough, but any stretch, but the change was noted.

The problem is, there are millions of companies who don’t behave the way we’d like them to – Naomi Klein’s vital and fantastic book No Logo highlighted corporate abuses around the world, and looked at the idea of using brand image as a weakspot in their armour. It works, she’s really onto something. But what she’s describing is activism – that’s something we all need to do, but it’s tough to fight every battle.

So what’s the alternative? When we realise that every single penny we spend is investing in something, we can start to think, on a day by day basic about what we’re investing in. I don’t have to see a change for it to have value. I don’t need to feel like everyone else is doing the same thing, I just need to know that the two pounds I spend on fairtrade Bananas is being divided up amongst people who are involved in the ongoing work of improving the world. The producers are improving their own world, providing better healthcare and schooling within their communities, the importers and distributors are people that have chosen to work within the rules of the fairtrade foundation, in order to further those aims. My money is being invested into the long term sustainability and growth of the fairtrade movement. The fact that Del Monte or Fyffes or whoever isn’t getting my money is an added bonus, the direct inspiration comes from that direct investment.

The next stage is thinking about where I buy them from – obviously part of the money goes to the retailer. Shopping in the UK without going to supermarkets is pretty tough in most places, and we go to Sainsbury’s for a fair bit of our grocery shopping – it’d be great if there was a branch of Fresh And Wild on southgate high street, but all we have is a tiny health food store – he’s great for herbal tea, muesli, cleaning products, tinned stuffs, etc. and we buy as much there as we can, but he doesn’t stock fruit and veg. So for now we go to Sainbury’s, but as much fair trade organic stuff as we can. But soon we’ll get our organic box scheme sorted out, then it’ll be organic, fair trade and v. low on food-miles. Yay – ecomonkeys are us.

So, try it – go for positive investment, not guilt-trip boycotts. Either way, it means you’ll never go to McDonalds again, which has to be a good thing.

Soundtrack – me and theo, live in Cambridge last week. sounding good!

One Reply to “FairTrade thoughts”

  1. I like the concept of “positive investment” although I still don’t feel like I’m missing too much by not buying Nestle products (every time I check, they still seem to be doing the bad baby milk thing).

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