March 05, 2008

Free Trade or Fairtrade? RaW News analyses Make Trade Fair Week and the Referendum Motion

Last Week on Campus was Make Trade Fair Week, an event run by the People and Planet Society. Now in the wake of the Union Referenda this week, RaW News Correspondant Rithee Pandya described the ideas behind fair trade and introduced the contentious debate as to whether Free Trade or Fair Trade is the direction in which this Union should be heading.

Warwick Students in the Yurt

Just as go green week ended and you thought you had had you fair share of ethical issues, fair trade week began here at Warwick. The week saw a tent put up in the piazza, fair trade chocolate fountains and an abundance of Oxfam leaflets and badges. There was a Fairtrade forum discussing workers’ rights and the effectiveness of Fairtrade in trade justice and local protest against Topshop.

RaW News interviewed Make Trade Fair Week organisers James Hall and Sara Johnson to analyze the success of the week. To listen, just click on the link below:

But what actually is fair trade? Unfortunately, it runs the risk of being one of those vague concepts that the majority of people follow because of its wash of morality.

The idea behind it is producers of goods, such as bananas, coffee, tea and cotton, in poor countries are given a better-than-market price for their products. This will guarantee them a decent wage,ensuring they can develop their business an infrastructure, rather than being gutted every time the bottom falls out of whichever market they’re in.

In the UK, £300m worth of Fairtrade products were purchased in 2006, up from £493m in 2005. There are predictions that that over the next 5 years this will grow by 11% and total £585m by 2012.Tate & Lyle has just said it’s going to turn over its entire operation to Fairtrade sugar with 40% of the cost of each bag of sugar will go to its growers and producers in Belize. Scotland has said even said it’s going to try to become the world’s first fair trade country.

However, according to the Adam Smith Institute, there are ‘inconvenient truths’ about fair-trade which have yet to surface. This week the ASI published a highly critical report suggesting that fair-trade benefits only a handful of farmers are the expense of the majority. Those farmers who qualify for fair trade certification are given higher prices for their produce, making it ‘unfair’ for the farmers that don’t. Even for Fairtrade certified farmers, only 1/5 of their produce sold ends up as fair-trade.

Those supporters of fair trade point to its successes; schools/hospitals built and agriculture sustained. A representative of the farmers of the Winward Islands in the Caribbean at the ‘Whats the point in fair trade?’ conference here at Warwick, highlighted the benefits the islanders have gained from fairtrade. The windard island produces bananas on, due to their location and resources, an extremely small and expensive scale. Fair trade has allowed them to sustain their business and they can now compete alongside the more developed banana producers of South America and Europe.

Given the wave of fair-trade products sweeping our shelves, what does it mean for consumer choice? By doing our little bit, are we addressing the wider issues? Do we know what the wider issues are? RaW News invited representatives from Make Trade Fair Week, the Warwick Tory Party and then threw in a few extras, in order to debate the pros and cons of fairtrade.

To listen to the debate click on the link, and should you have any views on the matter, please do leave your comments in the section below.

Rithee Pandya
Political Correspondent
Hannah Smith
Head of News


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