Reconciling anarchism with Fair Trade?

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Mystic
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Jan 27 2004 17:34
Reconciling anarchism with Fair Trade?

I went down to my university People & Planet meeting the other day just to check it out, and they were discussing getting the uni Fair Trade status. Now, Fair Trade strikes me as a good cause in itself, since it certainly limits the exploitation of the Third World to an extent by increasing the wages and living standards of the people at the very bottom. But at the same time I felt uneasy. For a start, it's obviously just "friendly" capitalism - marginally mitigating the suffering of the exploited workers, but by exercising our power through the system rather than getting rid of the system that caused that suffering in the first place. Also, the people at the meeting seemed kinda soft, and came mostly from the authoritarian ("liberal") left: Fair Trade strikes me as a pretty paltry gesture compared to revolution. Lastly, I'm unconvinced that the inspection regimes and branding of "Fair Trade" status are as truthful as they purport to be.

So I was just asking you guys' opinion on the subject. As an anarchist, should I help out, and mitigate the suffering inflicted by capitalism to an extent in that way? Or should I not waste my time on such issues, and continue working on bringing down the system?

thegiddygoat
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Jan 27 2004 18:34

i agree with you eek fair trade just seems to be the commodification of protest ,to divert us from fighting for real change, howvere I now it is easy fpr me as white european to say that

nosos
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Jan 27 2004 18:36

The chocolate tastes great though.

nosos
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Jan 27 2004 18:42
Mystic wrote:
Fair Trade strikes me as a pretty paltry gesture compared to revolution. Lastly, I'm unconvinced that the inspection regimes and branding of "Fair Trade" status are as truthful as they purport to be.

Well yeah, but that's no reason in-and-of-itself not to buy it. I take a similar view on this subject to boycotting. It can have a positive effect (albeit not in a systemic sense) but just be realistic about what you're doing. Buying fair trade can be on the same level as someone boycotting Nike and believing themselves to be making some great strike for the anti-capitalist movement. But it can also just be someone buying some chocolate because it tastes nice and the labour relations implicit in its production are marginally less shit than those of the Nestle bar sitting next to it on the self. It's easy to think that things are mutually exclusive when they need not be.

Mystic
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Jan 27 2004 19:55

I buy the stuff already where possible and affordable. It's on the idea of campaigning for it in earnest that I'm torn. Especially because the Fair Trade movement seems to share no anarchist ideals other than some kind of diluted anti-capitalism, though I wonder if we could change that black bloc ...

nosos
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Jan 27 2004 19:59
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It's on the idea of campaigning for it in earnest that I'm torn

Yeah I agree - I think it's a case of people confusing ends and means. Something as utterly reformist as Fairtrade can never be an end in itself (which I think campaigning earnestly for it would suggest) but it can be something which reduces the level of human suffering in the world - which is why we should support it.

RadikalProfit
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Jan 27 2004 23:23

i have worked for oxfam on their 'make trade fair' campaign and while it is not especially anti-capitalist, neither are average citizens. as it aims to help the poorest people in the poorest coutries, its something worthwhile to support. you are on the net, no doubt you shop at big shops and spend money. if you need to do so, you should not shy from doing it in the best way possible for the others at the production end. as it was pointed out, the systems used may not be perfect. nevertheless its always going to be better than nestle or kraft. i think its always important to make sure anyone who is an anarchist understands that it is impossible to be removed from the system if you live in the uk, and much of it we use to our advantage. its not a crime to help others and inform them that there are better choices out there in the system. while you may not like it, it's (the system) certainly not going away anytime soon.

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888
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Jan 27 2004 23:53

The system makes you want to think you've got a choice. Consumer power is an illusion (he says, cynically eating a Big Mac). Still, sometimes I buy fair trade coffee, knowing it's a pretty meaningless gesture.

Better to help coffee workers get more pay by supporting their strikes. Fair trade is essentially just trade + charitable donation, and not necessarily even to the right people, instead to dogooding managers.

Quote:
it is impossible to be removed from the system if you live in the uk, and much of it we use to our advantage.

That sounds like some kind of guilt trip. Sorry if it's not meant to. It's stupid to think that we're at the advantage end of "the system" just because we live in a first world country - we're still exploited all our lives.

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As an anarchist, should I help out, and mitigate the suffering inflicted by capitalism to an extent in that way? Or should I not waste my time on such issues, and continue working on bringing down the system?

Well do if you want but don't spend too much time on it - instead think of ways of fighting against your own exploitation with those around you, and give solidarity to others in struggle (hears the cliché counter clicking faster)... vague I know, but true.

RadikalProfit
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Jan 28 2004 00:43
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It's stupid to think that we're at the advantage end of "the system" just because we live in a first world country - we're still exploited all our lives.

what i meant to imply was that 'the system' as it stands gives us many advantages as a small group. i was refering mostly to the technology sector and how we can use the internet especially to build resistance and spread information. i did not mean between here and the third world, although it is of course a major advantage our citizens do have over theirs.

Quote:
The system makes you want to think you've got a choice. Consumer power is an illusion (he says, cynically eating a Big Mac). Still, sometimes I buy fair trade coffee, knowing it's a pretty meaningless gesture.

while the power of choice is often blown up, i feel you are playing it down a bit here. there is little doubt that fair trade offers a better lot for those who produce it, even if its meanial by our standards. the more people who buy it, the better deals the growers get will spread. while consumer choice may not seem to do so much for you, remember there is someone on the other side who will reap the benefits, however little they may be. another important point is that as more money spreads and is given out, and people can get better educated, they are more equiped to fight the battle against the global market system and the hurt it causes.

Quote:
instead think of ways of fighting against your own exploitation with those around you, and give solidarity to others in struggle

of course it is important too see fairtrade as a means to help, not an end. it is certainly true, as was pointed out, that a fair system wont work on goodwill capitalism. people need the power, not a few more pence from us every time we buy some coffee or chocolate.

ffaker
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Jan 28 2004 01:29

I read in a university Marketing text book that to qualify for "Fair Trade" status, the producer is *required* to sell the vast majority of their produce to non-fair trade producers. Apparently, the most active producers will sell no more than 25% to the fair trade market. This is supposedly to reduce depedancy. eek

Having said that, I think nosos has put it best. There is no reason for us in a much more privillaged part of the world not to spend a few more pence on choclate or coffee when it is available if it will improve people's lot even marginally. 888: while sceptisim towards Fair Trade is valid, and I agree that we are still exploited by the ruling class, there is no denying that people in the west have large material advantages over most people in the third world.

3rdseason
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Jan 28 2004 01:40
asa wrote:
There is no reason for us in a much more privillaged part of the world not to spend a few more pence on choclate or coffee when it is available if it will improve people's lot even marginally.

It helps people in the here and now so we shouldn't slag it off IMO. Similarly to charity, it will never cause a revolution or bring about anarchy but it can improve or even save lives. smile

I think to disregard schemes like this makes anarchists appear heartless. sad

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Spartacus
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Jan 28 2004 16:55

you have to be careful though in the general case of charity etc., especially religious ones. i don't know about fairtrade, but some charities supposedly helping people in the majority of the world (or third if you like, seems like just a different area of this one... ok, i've been reqading do or die too much) help in the colonalisation of people by the modern capitalist world, especially indigenous people's. in west papua for example many indigenous people lump aid workers and missionaries together along with other more blatant agents such as scientists, prospectors of various kinds... so in some cases charities make things worse, not better.

brizzul
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Jan 28 2004 20:06

It isn't helping anyone, though.

Fair trade is a business enterprise to take advantage of a niche market. That niche market is well informed, conscious consumers who wish to spend a little extra so that others don't suffer. But they still suffer because their land is being used to grow cash crops to be sent to the west instead of growing food for themselves.

Bear in mind that Nicuragua (a coffee growing country) was very recently a revolutionary country. It was and is capable of transforming itself using revolutionary means. Why are we supporting fair trade when direct action is the only thing capable of getting the goods?

captainmission
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Jan 28 2004 21:56
brizzul wrote:
Bear in mind that Nicuragua (a coffee growing country) was very recently a revolutionary country. It was and is capable of transforming itself using revolutionary means. Why are we supporting fair trade when direct action is the only thing capable of getting the goods?

Maybe its not a case of either/or?

Zapatista communities are producing fair trade coffee.

Guess its the same as with stuff like micro-credit schemes, it might not be perfect (and it might open up whole different forms of explotation) but the people involved in them general see it as an improvement.

3rdseason
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Jan 29 2004 00:32
brizzul wrote:
It isn't helping anyone, though.

Fair trade is a business enterprise to take advantage of a niche market. That niche market is well informed, conscious consumers who wish to spend a little extra so that others don't suffer. But they still suffer because their land is being used to grow cash crops to be sent to the west instead of growing food for themselves.

But surely you must agree if you were one of those farmers you'd rather supply "fair trade" cos you earn more. These people aren't exactly rich are they?

Anyway no one is arguing fair trade is a substitute for working towards revolution but it has made a difference to the lives of the farmers.

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Pilchardman
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Feb 5 2004 10:37

I agree with a lot of what's being said here: buying Fair Trade is in no way a revolutionary act. But, then, as anarchists we all support improvements in conditions that we could say were reformist at best. I reject the state, but I support better state benefits, for example.

What I disagree with, however, is making people feel guilty for not buying Fair Trade: if you can afford it and want to, fine. But many people don't have the luxury; they'd rather make the savings. It isn't they that are to blame for the condition of Majority World farm labourers, though; it is global capitalism.