Commuters rejecting FairTrade

Friday, 27th July 2007 at 9:00 UTC 3 comments

Perhaps I was being over-hopeful wen I acused fairtrade of losing its radical edge. Coming back from Somerset, I chatted with the trolley attendant on a Transpennine Express train.  He offered me a choice between FairTrade and Normal coffee, to which I responded “Oh, FairTrade definitely”. We got chatting…

He told me there was no price difference, but that even so, some commuters actually refuse to drink FT coffee; if he hasn’t got non-FairTrade, they don’t even bother then. This kind of active refusal makes me really angry. Trade Justice campaigning is about making sure we don’t have to ask for FairTrade, that everything is Fairly Traded and until then, FairTrade is the only really effective method of poverty relief being offered to Africa, South America and Asia. Do people really want to keep the poor poor?

I know there’s some ignorance about whether or not FairTrade is as good as non-FT coffee, but that really shouldn’t be an excuse. At least try the stuff. You’ll find that it really is a much better coffee for a start. But the way he put it made me think that some of this was a deliberate rejection of FT. Its not like they’re being asked to buy something they don’t want; they’ve already asked for a coffee, and the two options cost exactly the same.

My sister had a similar problem working in a solicitors office. No matter what she tried, she couldn’t get them to switch to FairTrade. Either it was brand addiction, or a refusal to get what FT is all about. They simply weren’t interested in justice for the poor of the Global South. She was the Captain of the runner-up debating team in her school’s debating competition; I doubt it was her arguments that were the problem.

So may FT still has a long way to go, or maybe we need to realise that there are still those determined to keep the poor poor, in which case, either we must support active refusal to sell non-FT or we must be prepared to speak more harshly to those who actively resist, maybe both.

I’m reminded of something I realised a long time ago. We often see FairTrade as a way of dealing with some kind of accident. It isn’t: unfair trade is deliberate, it is the result of people believing that they have the right to profit without benefiting those who do the hard work. We may find it difficult to understand: either we find it difficult to understand how people could be so callous, or we have become so de-sensitised to modern business practice that we see it as being perfectly acceptable, rather than completely unjust.

There’s that old Anglican triplet of having sinned “through ignorance, through weakness, and through our own deliberate fault”. Sometimes it really is the case that people don’t understand that FairTrade is much better, both in terms of taste (now, after years of practice) and in terms of its effects on the worlds poor. We can tackle this just through working to encourage those around us to see the effects they are having on those workers they come into contact with.

Sometimes its weakness: its much easier to keep drinking the same brand, FairTrade is an effort, and so forth. Having FairTrade sold at the same price as other coffee should solve this one: those commuters have no excuse.

Its not unreasonable to assume that the commuters in question are fairly intelligent, and earning a fair bit of money; they are, after all, paying to travel at the most expensive times to get to work. Many of them will be sitting there in smart suits, reading the morning papers. They haven’t any excuses. For some, its there own deliberate fault: they have chosen to maintain the status quo. They feel no sympathy, merely that this the way market forces flow, and that this is somehow good. As sickening as it sounds, there really are people who support unfair trade still.


Entry filed under: Economics, FairTrade.

And somewhere in Somerset More than a terrorist?

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Greg  |  Friday, 27th July 2007 at 15:31 UTC

    I’d take you up on your assertion that fairtrade tastes better. A lot of fairtrade items are premium range products, and should be compared to ‘normal (unfair?) premium range products, rather than the bog standard stuff. And Tesco’s own brand fairtrade ground coffee will taste pretty similar to some fairly basic ground coffee from anywhere else. And of course, as far as drinks go, Traidcraft’s tea/coffee used to taste absolutely awful. In fact, I’d say in a lot of cases Traidcraft still aren’t very good on that front.

    As for people avoiding fairtrade, I think a lot of it is a perception thing. People may remember the Traidcraft drinks of yore, or have heard nth hand of their reputation, and so be put off by that. They mahy also take the view that fairtrade gives more money to the source producers, so if consumers pay the same price, it must be cheaper, lower quality stuff.

    Another big reason why people may turn away fairtrade will be for some (ill-informed) economic reasons. Basically, they may have swallowed the excuses dreamt up as to why fairtrade is a bad idea. You know the ones I mean, about disadvantaging non-fairtrade producers, unhealthy markets and so on. Some will do this for their own convenience, but I’m sure some do it out of genuine ignorance.

    You never know, they may dislike fairtrade out of cynicism. There’s lots of links in the chain between a Kenyan tea farmer and a British consumer, and just because the producer doesn’t get screwed over, doesn’t mean that nobody else gets a raw deal. But that’s a goodmag article I intend to write if I ever get round to it!

    Anyway, it’s hometime and my tenure on work’s internet is up. See you!

  • 2. Jonathan  |  Sunday, 5th August 2007 at 18:01 UTC

    something just struck me:

    what about people growing their own food?

    if I plant tomatoes and eat them myself rather than shopping at ASDA – at my house has done, as it happens – then it’s pretty much guaranteed not a penny will go to the world’s poorest. as most it’s going to be a (comparatively) little bit of cash to a garden centre or something similar. I could instead pay significantly more to get some fair trade ones from a suitable shop.

  • 3. Graham Martin  |  Sunday, 5th August 2007 at 21:31 UTC

    Well, yes, Jonny, that is a fair point, and I certainly agree with those that say the FTF (Fair Trade Foundation) are self-obsessed and deluded, thinking “the world will be great if everyone pays a bit more”, ignoring the likelihood that the world would fry if we transported all our food from Africa, thus bringing death on most African farmers.

    There is a balance, but I certainly thing that coffee goes in the column of “don’t fly it, make it fairtrade”, atleast until the planet heats up enough to put it in the “grow back garden” column, if you see my point. Yes, its a valid point in general, but no, not relevant with coffee.

    There is also the problem that FairTrade still causes people in the Global South to rely on people in the West for their well-being, rather than become autonomously sustaining.


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