because we feel our voices go unheard. If enough people speak out, and loudly, if we send a message with our social, political and economic choices, then we will see a difference in the world around us for the better.
Still, it seems to be paying off: in less than a decade, sales of products bearing the Fair Trade logo has increased elevenfold; meanwhile the Fair Trade foundation itself is certain that the benefits trickling down to third world producers has been significant.
Dave Allen studies Philosophy at the University of York References: Nielsen, K. 1972: ‘Traditional Morality and Utilitarianism’. In Sterba (ed.) 2005, pp. 142-55. Singer, P. 1972: ‘Famine, Affluence, and Morality’. In Singer (Kuhse (ed.)) 2005, pp. 145-56.
For other articles on this subject see “The Value of Freedom” www.clubofpep.org/vox
PEPtalk On the first of February the club of PEP held it’s AGM. Henry Smith is the new president, Helen Warner is treasurer, Emily Froud is secretary; and many congratulations to Jasper Littmann, and Ilaf Scheikh Elard the new Vox Editors. The Club of PEP held their annual charity spring ball on the 14th of February. The night was a success and raised over £1000 to the St Leonard's Hospice in York.
No Divine Solution Mark has a stable income, and is reasonably aware about the world. He sometimes gives money to charities, and when he goes shopping, he buys the odd bag of coffee or a chocolate bar that bears the fair-trade logo. It’s slightly more expensive, but he feels that paying the extra goes some way towards redressing inequality. He is interested in more than just the product that he is paying for; the difference that he is paying, as far he is concerned, is in some way related to the wellbeing of the third world producer. If pushed, he would admit that he tries to buy fair-trade wherever possible in the hope that all trade will eventually become fair-trade at some point in the future. Not everyone thinks this way. Ethical consumerism is still about consumption, and it seems naïve to assume that all members of society are consistently morally engaged when choosing what to consume. Perhaps we should be, but that would make life considerably more expensive and restrictive. So most of us settle for doing what we consider to be the right thing, on those occasions when it is easy enough.
Trickle down it does, but how much of it goes to the producers? In his article for the New York Times, Tim Terman suggests that our conception of the actual benefit to the producer is skewed. Coffee producers are paid $1.26 for a pound of coffee beans ($0.16 above the commodity rate), regardless of whether that coffee retails for $6 or $10. Here in the UK, a 227 gram pack of Cafedirect Medium Roast and Ground retails for £2.48, while an equivalent version produced by Tesco retails at £1.88. Both bear the same Fair Trade symbol, and are produced from Latin American Arabica beans. The Fair Trade foundation has consistent standards, the growers are paid the same fair price of £0.64 per pound of beans, and the products are of comparable quality. Even were we to make the generous assumption that Tesco sells its fair trade coffee at cost-price, then the Cafedirect mark-up still amounts to £0.60. This can only be due to the relative inefficiency of Cafedirect.
The point of this is not to demonize fair-trade retailers, but rather to understand that fair trade is still trade. There is a flawed, vague assumption amongst consumers that fair trade is desirable because it corrects the iniquities of the free-market mechanism. Strictly speaking, this is not true. It tries to redress wage inequalities between the developed and developing world, and it does so from within the free-market system. This is achieved by providing subsidies to producers to artificially elevate commodity prices. However, in the free-market system, when commodity prices are low, it is because of over-production, and providing a subsidy removes the incentive for farmers and growers in the developing world to diversify into other crops. Fair trade, for all of its good intention and despite the trickle-down - 4 -
In this issue of VOX, topics covered include climate change, foreign aid and the raise of multination firms.