I find it interesting that part of the promotion of the ideas in William MacAskill’s book, “Doing Good Better: How effective altruism can help you make a difference”, involves having a negative headline about Fairtrade.
As CEO of Traidcraft, an organisation that has pioneered Fairtrade and continues to be passionately committed to the movement, you’d assume that I ought to vehemently argue against what he is saying.
However, not just reading the headlines, there are plenty of ways in which I think we have common ground, even if I do disagree with his opinion on Fairtrade per se.
If I hear Mr MacAskill correctly, he’s not denying the finite impact of either disaster relief or Fairtrade. He’s challenging the salving of western guilt about global poverty through blind ‘ethical’ consumption or charitable giving.
I think he’s right to note that the best approach is to work with the poorest countries and people groups. People should not mindlessly support the business or charity with the shiniest PR machine. Equally I’d agree that, in the relatively prosperous developed economies, we should encourage personal giving to charities who work most effectively at eliminating the root causes of global poverty and inequality.
At Traidcraft we’re concerned about the potential for consumers to think ‘the job is done’ when they buy an established Fairtrade labelled product. Don’t get me wrong, we still believe passionately in the labelling process, although we disagree that the compliance costs are consistently prohibitive – indeed support is sometimes made available to help with these costs. We, and many of our supporters, have witnessed first-hand the transformation of poor communities through a proper use of minimum prices and premiums paid under the Fairtrade labelling schemes. Children have education, villages have viable water supplies etc. This would not have been the case without developing world businesses having access to Fairtrade supply chains. But by itself, it is not enough.
But WHERE you buy Fairtrade is the important issue here – not all fair trade is equal.
Over the past three decades, Traidcraft has pioneered the introduction of fair trade products, such as chocolate, tea and coffee, into the UK market – products now seen everywhere with the Fairtrade Mark. But, while the success of Fairtrade certification and labelling are great, we believe in an alternative trading model that goes deeper, way beyond a set of standards. We offer the best of fair trade - we’ve spent more than three decades seeking out and supporting the most vulnerable and marginalised farmers and artisans across the developing world – producers who could not cope with the demands or scale required by mainstream businesses or the supermarkets.
These products may not all yet carry the labels, but the terms of trade are fair and we can ensure that we are being effective in channelling funds into a wider range of outcomes including health, education, gender equality, environmental and trafficking / slavery projects.
Even then, we know that we’re not going to change the world to the extent we’d like with a finite number of our own commercial transactions.
That’s why, at Traidcraft, we campaign for changes to the policy frameworks that regulate trade, both in the UK and in the developing world. It’s also why we run direct development projects on the ground, to empower the disadvantaged poor in trading their way out of poverty. We explicitly work in pioneering territory. We’re happy when we can draw ‘big business’ in to follow our lead or for major charitable funding sources to invest alongside us.
Therefore, although we’re not (yet) on Mr MacAskill’s current list of the most effective charities, we aspire to be incredibly effective, holistic and preventative when it comes to fighting poverty, and to inspire a wide range of supporters and consumers to think about what they buy and give, in order that that they can ‘do good better’.
So, buy Fairtrade where and when you can – but make sure it’s the best of fair trade