Fair trade is a huge business these days. How huge? Well, this 2007 article in the NY Times titled “Fair Trade in Bloom” puts the world-wide coffee industry at about $2.2 billion for 2006, while this article, Fair Trade Popularity Grows in 2009, puts the world-wide sales of fair trade products at €3.4 billion (about $4.5 billion).
As great as these figures may look on the outside, I am not necessarily a proponent of fair trade any more than I am a proponent of “Certified Organic” in their current forms. I am a huge supporter of the ideology behind what fair trade represents – “concern for the social, economic and environmental well-being of marginalized small producers” and does “not maximize profit at their expense.” However, they have become a commodity to be pandered and marketed, instead of an ideal.
My reasons? I do not agree with the “best price wins/big dog-eat-little dog/WalMartization of life” model that currently exists in our capitalist economy. Currently, multinational corporations control most of the economic activity, and they lobby for a completely “free market” economy without government intervention and regulation, whine about paying local taxes, and race toward the bottom of the price and quality barrel.
Currently, “capitalism” tends to be controlled more and more by less and less very prosperous people, many of whom spend millions trying to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. Worse, too many of them did nothing to earn what they own and were simply born into a wealthy family, joining the royals and other undeserving elites in the “Lucky Sperm Club.”
Also, we are not currently paying the true cost of what we buy these days. The true costs would include transportation costs (currently cheap because of subsidized oil and gas) and environmental costs (we currently do not pay anywhere near enough to cover environmental costs associated with production and recycling, and much of the junk we buy ends up untreated in a landfill). This isn’t right, and there will be a day of reckoning.
In my Utopian brain, I see properly implemented capitalism as an incentive to move along one boulevard that is only one road to travel in our journey through life that leads toward more overall prosperity and happiness for everyone. Call me a dreamer.