Arthur & Henry                                                         Organic Cotton. Fair Trade Cotton. Ethical. Beautiful.

Fairtrade.  Fair play old chap.  

Cricket.  The slap of leather on willow, pints of ale, cucumber sandwiches at tea, gentlemanly competition and above all a sense of fair play.  Except there is not.  Not really.  It’s ruthless, it’s competitive, and rife with such keen desperation to win that in order to retain a degree of civility it has enough rules to make a small book.  I think the only sport that is more ruthless is croquet.

Trade.  Well, there’s a distinct lack of leather on willow, but pretty much everything else is there right down to the cucumber sandwiches.  Sure, there are some rules, but they don’t appear to be making life better for our Indian cotton farmers. Nobody’s there keeping a paternalistic eye out, making sure everybody’s being treated decently.  Nobody except you that is - the consumer.

Ruthless competition is at the heart of the free market.  It’s the driving force behind Adam Smith’s famous “invisible hand”.  It is the driving force behind the efficient allocation of resources.  An efficient allocation that encourages and rewards the sort of human endeavour that has meant not only globally rising living standards, but globally rising living standards in at a time where the planet’s population has mushroomed from 1 billion to 7 billion in just 200 years.  Wow.

Fairtrade certification is there to allow the consumer to temper this ruthlessness while still encouraging the sort of behaviour (trade, innovation, increasing productivity) that has delivered so much.

Tempering ruthlessness is important when it exceeds one’s own sense of decency.  I want my coffee, all other things being equal, to be as cheap as possible but I also don’t want my coffee to cause the suffering of others.  Ditto for the cocoa in my chocolate, the fruit in my juice and yes, the cotton in my shirts.  Fairtrade certification allows me as a consumer to spend a little bit more to give the the farmer a better life.

So, Fairtrade, making global commodity trade less like cricket. And croquet.

Written by Mark Lissaman — February 27, 2015

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