gold, mine. neighbour, mine.

18 03 2010

Is there nothing left we can buy without thinking about it? Can we not just be left alone to get on with our lives without lefty Guardian-reading Pharisees looking over their glasses at us and asking if its Fairtrade?

It’s my money, it’s my choice.

It started with coffee, I could handle that. I don’t really drink coffee.
Then it was chocolate. I can handle that, fair trade chocolate tastes better anyway.
It then included cotton, I could handle that. You rarely see fair trade cotton, so I didn’t feel bad for not buying it.
They talked about diamonds, I could handle that. I don’t buy diamonds very often.

Now they are including gold. Fairtrade gold? Is there nothing left? Is there no area of life that is sacred, that we can be left alone to not think, to un-think, to spend our money not think where its come from, who has mined it/packed it/shipped it/sold it/ been stolen and trafficked and beaten and worked 14 hours a day in a cramped overheated factory or dirty dangerous mine so that I can have lovely cheap things to make me feel better about myself?

No.

one (gold) ring to bind them


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21 responses

18 03 2010
c2drl

Its an enigma isn’t it. We live in an age where there is virtually no ethical backbone to society – politicians who lie, banks who act outrageously, doctors only in it for the money, etc etc – and yet we seem to have individual ‘ethical’ decisions forced on us.

A survey in the press this week said that people buy ‘green’ goods more to impress the neighbours than because they believe in the green cause, whatever that is. Cynical or what?

It seems that money is the only God now. Do we hear political parties talking about their ethical values for the country as we approach an election? Is there any moral spine to the European Union or is it, as it seems just a financial union for the rich governing classes? Do the Israelis get a better hearing from the US than the Palestinians because they have more financial clout?

Aren’t governments supposed to work for the common good, passing laws as guidelines and furthering the principle of subsidiarity – decisions in the small community level for things that concern us? There now seems to be just one huge void between a Government I cannot influence or trust and ime having ndividual responsibility thrust upon me for things that I cannot possibly have full data about and have probably been lied to by governments and multi-national companies anyway.

Can somebody tell me what a moral compass is and who has one, please. And yet our God has so much to say about these things, but it isn’t at the level of what coffee do you drink, it is at a deeply moral level. How do we listen to him and how do we bring his wisdom to our leaders?

18 03 2010
Kevin

In many ways I agree – on a micro-level we act, but we must also have an impact on a larger scale.

So, those of us who can, we must write letters and emails, we must lobby our politicians, we must meet with them and our local councillors and tell them that we are interested in ethical politics.

What we mustn’t do is say that because we cannot do any thing big, we won’t do anything at all.

18 03 2010
Edge

Ethics and morality – a subjective minefield. Doing the right thing in the right way for the right reasons with the right spirit – I think most people would sign up to something like that. Unless it costs us, of course. In which case, we might be less prepared to contribute sacrificially.
It’s never right to do the wrong thing and it’s never wrong to do what’s right. But who can be trusted to be arbiters of what’s right and what’s not? I agree that we need to strive to make things better. Ethical politics is the stuff of life and we can’t opt out. We should try to be the change that we want to see. We can’t interfere with play if we aren’t on the pitch, so we must get involved.
But what if our vision is blinkered, or blurred, or deluded or self-serving? If we are gearing up to tell other people to change their ways of thinking, then that is only valid if we are prepared to listen to their views and consider the possibility of allowing them to change our way of thinking. Because we may not fully understand. We may not be fully informed. We could be wrong.
Sadly, Christians are often the most judgemental and arrogant when it comes to engaging in debates, be they moral, ethical, political or other. Because we usually want everyone else to change to fit in with us. We don’t usually debate or enquire, we preach. We argue. We point and we judge. Don’t take my word for it. Ask someone who isn’t a Christian.
Ethical politics is extremely important. I think Jesus calls us to change the world. What about ethical Christianity? That would be interesting, too. I’ve never been comfortable with the Christian ‘tradition’ of smuggling Bibles across borders. Yet so many Christians would have no problem with that. They celebrate it. But might God have a problem with it? With us?
If we can do small things, then big things will follow. If they are the right things. So let’s do what we can.
The biggest problem seems to me that we in the churches start from a position of being all over the place; and if we don’t change direction soon, we will end up where we are headed for. And no, I don’t mean Heaven…

19 03 2010
Kevin

So, Edge – change direction. Do something. You ask a lot of questions, which can begin as wisdom but end as dodging being the answer to your own questions.
Saying we should get involved, but then having a crisis about whether we know what we are doing and how it all works and if it’s all a waste of time is like trying to cross the road whilst staring at your shoes and wondering what colour they are and if that colour is real or a trick of the eyes. It might be interesting but the road still needs crossing.
Change direction – walk forwards.

19 03 2010
Edge

Asking questions is doing something. Listening is doing something. Opening your mind is doing something. Change is doing something. God is in all those things.
Preaching though, that’s rather presumptuous sometimes.
Cross what road – your road? Maybe that’s your journey.

20 03 2010
c2drl

Kevin is right. Whilst questions may stimulate thought you can become paralysed with questions as they become an excuse for not taking responsibility and doing anything. As Christians we need to be prepared to throw our own ideas into the public square and be prepared to debate them, and even to be proved wrong. Preaching is a form of doing that, no preaching is above constructive challenge or debate but just asking obscure questions can be destructive.

Oh for more Christoans prepared to enter the public square with propositions and answers, expressed not in the percieved language of Zion but meeting today’s world and using today’s metaphores. Keep it up Kevin.

Saga are asking for questions to be put to the political leaders at the next general election. How many Christians will respond with constructive, well thought out ideas that will stimulate debate? Or is God not interested in our national morality?

21 03 2010
Andy Mason

‘Every pound spent is a vote for the kind of world we want to live in’ said Abraham Lincoln (or was it Franklin D. Rosalvelt?).

Its true, why do companies behave so badly toward those in the developing world? Why? They know that they can get away with it and we will still buy their products. We choose not to look or to listen where our food, jewlery or clothes come from…

I am a big fan of fair trade stuff, but I think that often a fair trade label often does more to comfort our affluent western consciences than really bring a tangible transformative difference to exploited communities in the way that God would truly desire! To truly make a difference we need to ask more awkward questions than we do; take a more painful hit in our wallet than we would like and in doing so we’d see and hear about a side of life we’d rather not know about.

We need to ensure that as we spend our money, we also send a message that we want to go beyond tokenism, nor will our money finance exploitation. We are one of the richest nations on earth, therefore with our great wealth also comes great responsibility (did you know owning a freezer puts you in the top 10% of the richest people on the earth). We want to send a message that a worker deserves their pay and are seeking to see a world where justice and righteousness really does flow like rivers impacting and blessing the lives of the marginalised and disefranchized, the forgotten, down trodden and disillustioned…

This might all sound naive but as the proverbs states ‘evil prospers whilst good people do nothing’… What can I do? Every little bit I do, can and does make an impact… every pound I send sends a message…

21 03 2010
anonymous

Everybody has a moral compass; some are just slightly less aligned than others. The change to fair-trade is getting closer, the problem has been realised, and supposing the demand is still high enough in 5 years time I believe there will be an almost total switchover.

22 03 2010
carol

We all love to talk the talk, but are not so keen to walk the walk…are we?.

24 03 2010
Kevin

Anonymous, you are even more idealistic than me! I would love to agree with you, and even more to hope that we won’t need fair trade because everything will operate like that anyway. However, human nature being as it is I can’t see it happening. For every Mr Cadbury there are a hundred Mr Kraft’s.

Andy, your point is good – that we move beyond tokenism to make ourselves feel better, and recognise who we are and where we are in the grand scheme of things. Then consider our lifestyles and how to change them, and influence others to change theirs.

Let’s walk. As Kanye West said, Jesus walks.

24 03 2010
anonymous

More realistic than idealistic. Now, to Tesco and fill up my basket with fairtrade goodies!

27 03 2010
Anonymous 2 :)

I don’t think a total switch over to fair trade is “realistic” in the slightest. Yeah, the demand is growing, but it’s still pretty miniscule compared to that of cheap goods.

Due to the nature of fair trade, they’re always going to be that little bit more expensive than non, as companies are going to be unlikely to wish to absorb the extra cost. For that reason, companies will always try to under-cut the fair trade companies, and sadly a lot of Consumers wont be prepared, for one reason or another, to pay the premium for fair trade.

The only realistic way I can see the switch over happening, is some kind of government legislation, banning non-fair trade goods. This in itself is very unlikely, due to it being a massive cost to the government to enforce it, and chances are companies would just find ways to get round it, be it through loopholes, or just illegal practices.

Having said that… I would quite like it to happen!

27 03 2010
Kevin

Wow, battle of the anonymi!

I agree with Anon 2, though I think that it would be great if the Tescos/ASDAs of this world would subsidise their fair-trade lines with ‘normal’ produce profit, which they make so much of, but that would challenge an ethos of business-profit-shareholders-drivenness, which in a sense is fair enough because they are a business, but would be great to see that transformed into more than fair trade tokenism and an active promotion of it as a viable daily alternative. We live in hope…

Anyone see this? http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00rqm4n/Panorama_Chocolate_The_Bitter_Truth/

28 03 2010
jo

have just watched the panorama prog and loved the final part when he took his ‘produced-using-child-labour-chocbar’ out on the streets. the reactions seem to show that the average consumer still knows/understands little about fair trade. perhaps all non fair trade chocs should carry the same message.

31 03 2010
anonymous

Well its funny you should suggest that i am going to be paying more for my goods when both Cadburys and Nestle are taking the hits from their profit margins for fairtrade goods. There is going to be a landslide of companys produsing fairtade goods, this huge increase will result in a larger economy of scale, which in turn will result in modestly priced fairtrade goods in every supermarket. Ovbiously there is never going to be a “total switchover” without legislation being put in motion; however the majority of goods will be fairtrade. Would you not agree anonymous2?

31 03 2010
Anonymous 2 :)

I’m not sure what kind of “Economies of Scale” you say will come into play? You’re talking as though Fair Trade goods are some kind of new product, they’re not, they’re just existing products using different resources. All these massive firms have already exploited most of the available economics of scale, one of the only type of economy of scale that wouldn’t be totally productively efficient would be that of “Purchasing Economies” E.G. Buying larger quantities of goods and demanding discounts. But surely, this would be totally underpinning the point of “Fair trade” in the first place?

I think the only reason Cadburys and Nestle have managed to absorb the extra cost, is because they are so massive, and chances are they expect the change to bring them additional demand for their product. I think smaller firms wont be able to absorb these extra costs, so may not even attempt a switch to fair trade. This means there’ll always be firms that opt to produce cheaper goods. Unless there’s a massive culture change, the majority of Consumers will still opt for the cheaper good, and for that reason, I do not believe that the majority of goods produced will be fair trade.

1 04 2010
anonymous

I think you realised that the economy of scale I was referring to was the “Purchasing Economies” as you said, so the use of an example “E.G. Buying larger quantities of goods and demanding discounts.” Was really, very unnecessary. When you say that economies of scale underpins the point of fair-trade, I believe you have missed the point. Should a greater demand for fair-trade workers be created by the largely increased economy of scale, the workers are the only people who benefit significantly. So why on earth does this underpin the “Point” of fair-trade should western economics be applied to the business model?

Your second point seems to also be irrelevant, I never suggested that large corporations are not the ones to make the switchover, because they are. Chocolate company’s are some of the worst offenders, and their conversion is the first of many landmarks for the fair-trade agreement. Smaller company’s might not be able to compete; however my initially argument stated there would be an “almost total switchover.” Which means I realise there will be some company’s unable to compete and therefore embrace fair-trade.

As the economy is largely based on consumerism, if everyone is positive about a switchover, more large company’s will realise this and use it to make a unique selling point for their item, this will make the entire switchover happen far sooner. This is why I urge people to stay positive about the conversion for Britain’s marketplace as there will be a greater demand for these goods and the switchover will happen sooner.

2 04 2010
edgsoni

With the occasional exception, businesses exist to make profits for their owners. The more profit they can make, the richer their owners can become. It is logical, therefore, that businesses will try to charge as much as they can for their products to increase their profit margins.
With the occasional exception, consumers shop to buy things that they want and/or need. They mostly want to pay as little as they can for their goods and services, so that they have more money left to buy more stuff.
This ‘profit versus economy’ tension works its way out in the market place as the balance of supply and demand.
Things which are in plentiful supply can usually be bought cheaply, because there are so many available to consumers that some business, inevitably, will be selling them cheap (for lots of different reasons). Other businesses must have competitive prices or else they won’t be able to sell any of their own. So the market price falls.
Things which are in short supply are usually more expensive, because when demand outstrips supply, consumers will pay over the odds to get what they need.
Ethical trade is an interesting subject because it introduces the issue of price morality into the equation.
Businesses are not usually morality centred, they are profit orientated. They will sell ethical products if there is sufficient customer demand for them and if they can make a reasonable profit on them. So the onus is on the customer to influence the market by demanding more ethical goods and being prepared to pay the higher prices which the businesses (and suppliers) want. The more we demand ethical goods at a fair price for the supplier and are prepared to pay a (significantly) higher price than we would for the non-ethical equivalents, the more such goods will become available.
But let’s be realistic. We live in a world where people want better public services but don’t want to pay more taxes. They want better quality food and sexier gadgets but don’t even want to pay as much as they used to pay for those things.
So I really can’t see a time when fairtrade products dominate the market. Not unless the suppliers of fairtrade products can make them available to retailers for less than the non-ethical equivalent products. Which isn’t going to happen, or we wouldn’t need fairtarde in the first place.
But if enough people continue to demand (and to pay higher prices for) fairtrade products, then there will at least be some of these products available in the shops and some suppliers who are getting a fair deal for their labours.

2 04 2010
Anonymous 2 :)

Anonymous, you seem to have tried to totally discount my arguments without actually explaining why they’re wrong?

Your sentence; “Should a greater demand for fair-trade workers be created by the largely increased economy of scale, the workers are the only people who benefit significantly.” Totally makes no sense to me? An increase in economies of scale doesn’t lead to a greater demand for fair trade workers? I still don’t quite understand what economies of scale you’re talking about, you seem to be saying that as the supply of fair trade goes up, the price comes down, which would usually be true, but as I’ve already explained, this probably wont be the case. Firms will have already exploited any available economies of scale, and the additional cost will be due to a lowered purchasing economy, due to higher wages, and naturally this cannot be decreased as output rises, as that would mean lower wages again, which WOULD underpin the point of fair trade.

Thanks for calling my second point “Irrelevant” however, it is far from it. I think Edgsoni’s comment helps to back it up nicely. When it comes down to it, consumers are still motivated by getting “The best deal” so I think the demand for cheap goods will always out-strip that of fair trade goods. Are you saying that if all “Large” firms changed to fair trade that this would equal a “Almost total switch over”? This would be the case if all markets were a monopoly, but seeing as this is pretty much banned by the competition commission, this is very much far from the case.

For example, one of the least contestable markets is that of UK Supermarkets. As of December 2009, the 3 firm concentration ratio was 63.9% which is an incredibly high number compared to most other markets. However, this still means that realistically, the companies who own the other 36.1% wont be able to afford the switch over. Before you jump on that and say that a figure of just under 65% of firms being fair trade would be very good, you have to understand that the majority of other markets don’t even come close to being as highly concentrated as this, so in most other markets, the number could be very very small, or not even there, E.G. perfectly competitive markets who can’t raise their price without a significant drop in demand.

Having said all of this, there’s nothing to say all large firms will choose to be fair trade anyway, this “Fair-trade” business could all be a passing phase, but hopefully this wont be the case.

4 04 2010
anonymous

“Should a greater demand for fair-trade workers be created by the largely increased economy of scale, the workers are the only people who benefit significantly.”, This was in combat to your original point of “But surely, this would be totally underpinning the point of “Fair trade” in the first place?” As I take it, you expect that the stimulated growth of fair-trade underpins “the point of “Fair trade” Which is as i believe a very unguided opinion, rather than basis for an argument.
I did not intend to be pedantic when I called your point “irrelevant” however as i see it, reputable brands such as Nestle and Cadburys are changing to fair-trade, their unique selling point is their brand and so although there will be cheaper alternatives available such as “Tosco value Milk Chocolate” which I doubt will ever change to fair-trade, the giants of the market will only offer fair-trade products which the customer will be forced to buy to get the brands known quality of product.
Should people be optimistic about the ethical changes in shops in the Uk instead of feuding over the details of the change, there will be an increased demand for fair-trade products. This increased demand will encourage companies to switchover to fair-trade; this switchover will create an almost new market where companies will be competing to produce the lowest priced fair-trade products which will eventually lead to quality fair-trade products at the fraction of the price. Should people assume that this is a passing phase, there will be no drive for companies to produce fair-trade goods and we will be left with many more unethical cheaper goods. You can believe what you want to, there will always be a cheaper alternative; however if demand is stimulated a huge sector of the market could be captivated.
I am not responding on this topic again as it seems to be turning into a petty feud between myself and “Anonymous 2 :)” which seems to be a rather large waste of time. I urge people to not argue about this, but just to stay positive to help the world.
Thank you.

5 04 2010
Kevin

Thanks for this discussion, it’s been very interesting reading! I think we can agree that using consumer power to pursuade businesses to be more ethical is a good thing, however it pans out. With Nestle’s 2 finger Kit Kat being fair trade, that makes up less than 1% of their range. But it’s a start. Cadbury’s have set the bar consideraby higher, but with the Kraft takeover we wait to see what will happen.

I stick by Green & Blacks, who although they only have 1 fair trade bar, their ethical policy is very good and robust, and their chocolate is sourced ethically. Although again, they were taken over by cadbury’s so who knows how long it will last.

The key is to be aware of this stuff, it’s amazing how many people aren’t. Once we are aware, it’s out choice how we act.

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