In my desk drawer I have a copy of the very first Traidcraft catalogue from 1979 - maybe a collector’s item now? The opening two introductory paragraphs were as follows:
“Traidcraft is a company founded and run by people trying to put into practice some of the implications of their own Christian faith. We feel that there is every opportunity to demonstrate God’s desire for love and justice in the world through responsible and fair trading.
Traidcraft is supported by, and accountable to, people of all denominations who believe that redressing economic injustice in the world is part of their responsibilities”
37 years on it’s always useful to be reminded of our founding principles and it’s all too easy to reduce ‘fair trade’ into something which is about ‘doing some good to someone’, or helping a ‘poor person’, or building a school or providing medical care – all good things in themselves but tending toward the language of charity. Arguably injustice is kind of ‘hard-wired’ into traditional global trading systems and Traidcraft set out to create an alternative. How well we have done that is open to debate but the fact is that the gulf between rich and poor is as wide as ever and so we continue with that mission.
In the world of commodities I’ve seen a lot – tea, coffee, cocoa, sugar, rubber, palm oil, nuts, fruit, honey, you name it! Whatever the commodity it usually starts with a very hard working farmer, conscientious and knowledgeable in the main, but very often burdened by the uncontrollable like market fluctuations, the power of traders, geographical circumstances or remoteness causing problems in accessing markets.
I’ve seen examples of the ‘dishonest scales’ that the book of Proverbs talks about, the lure and necessity for ready cash in hand rather than a better price by waiting or planning, the urgency to trade or throw away a perishable crop that needs to be processed quickly, or rejected because it doesn’t quite meet the stringent standards of the buyer, or maybe having to sell for less than it cost to grow. All of these things can happen wherever crops are farmed but when you’re a small holder farmer in some remote region of Africa or Asia the consequences are amplified.
That’s the down side, but I’ve also seen the upside. Farmers who, through organising, can even out the power imbalance in supply chains. Farmers who through knowledge and understanding of markets can use their crop as the equivalent of currency. Farmers who invest in technology or equipment that adds value to their crop. Farmers who can earn a guaranteed income through the economically ‘disruptive’ model of fair trade.
The world of fair trade is unrecognisable compared to those early days. Certifications systems like ‘Fairtrade’ are great but the extent to which you can ‘certify’ things which are fundamentally about addressing injustice in trade is an interesting point of debate. Here at Traidcraft we aspire to ‘do justice’ rather than merely complying with a set of standards. I hope we’re around for the next 37 years to continue that important work.