I am going to venture into dangerous territory now. You have had some lighter posts this week while I lacked the time to write, but now I must explore an issue that fizzes away within me.
I should say that I am supportive of everything 'fair', be that trade or treatment. FairTrade as an enterprise and as a cause is worthy and good and I support all that it stands for, until ...
I was reminded of my annoyance with an aspect of Fair Trade when I was at the wonderful Eden Project earlier this month. I bought and enjoyed a carton of very normal apple juice. It was Fair Trade apple juice as you would rightly imagine, with the vital ingredient coming from growers in Chile. Very nice for the growers in Chile, I thought - until I remembered how far Chile is away from south Cornwall (or Manchester in fact, where the juice was 'recieved'). I am very close friends with a man who lives and works in Hereford, and he reports that the apple-drink industry has been hard hit in recent years. Cider sales are not as bouyant and apple juice sales are just as troubled. In fact, one of the larger apple-industry companies was forced to lay-off staff in recent times. You can probably see wher I am going here. Why are we choking up the planet ferrying in apple juice from across the globe all the while we watch people in Britain lose jobs because we have stopped buying their apple juice?
I believe that the strength of Fair Trade is in establishing fairness for those communities who provide unique and specific crops or goods to the West who have to power to cost them into oblivion. Coffee, bananas, chocolate, cotton, tea - these are all things that we have to go to the Second and Third World for and who would be most compromised by our buying power here in the First World. Fair Trading in these and other such commodities is absolutely right and within the Gospel Imperative.
But toilet roll, wine, bread, apple juice, orange juice, cereal bars? The list goes on. The last time I looked, France was within the EU and was, to the best of my knowledge, working ethically and treating its staff in the same way as we would hope to in England. So why are we shipping Fair Trade white wine many thousands of miles when the French gear toddles mere hundreds? Is it just choice, or are we bringing it here because it is FairTrade?
It raises a wider issue maybe. Which ethical issue takes precendent? Fair Trade, global warming and its causes, preserving industry and work at home for our communities? Which takes the lead here? My belief is that with Fair Trade, we have taken it to the Nth degree and a little to the extremes. With a proper balance, we in the West can support communities who would otherwise fail if we didn't trade fairly, but we can also ensure that the working communities of Herefordshire (et al) can remain in their jobs and my kids aren't choked by the emissions of the transports that are dragging my apple juice 6000 miles.