Tomorrow is the official worldwide Fair Trade Day, which has been observed on the second Saturday in May for the past five years. This day is a call to consumers to be more mindful of the purchases they make on a daily basis, which is at least as important as the broader policy initiatives instituted by the government.
Yesterday Seth wrote an interesting piece post about fair trade. The human-human transaction that once occurred in the market place has been long replaced with a transaction between things. This psychology is so internalized that many can not break free.
Interestingly, Seth argues against overzealous materialism and transaction-oriented thinking, while at the same time he emphasizes cost or the almighty dollar as his overiding argument for Fair Trade.
I think there are two Fair Trades, one concerned with creating a more humane, fairer approach to trade, and one for liberals to sleep well at night. If it is the former the first mediation is not money. If my transaction in the marketplace is truly based on a fairer sense of trade, cost will not play a role until I have two comparable products. In anti fair trade the primary and often only mediation in the market place is the almighty dollar, in Fair Trade is it does factor in until the end of the transaction process.
I buy Fair Trade coffee, no not from Star Bucks, nor Trader Joes, but the real stuff from Just Coffee. It is not simply a monetary interaction but a social, cultural, and political one. I buy from Just Coffee because I want to know the human component on the other side of the transaction. It is not enough to say they are earning a living wage, who decides what that is.
I usually buy a 5 pound bag of Just Coffee every few months or so, but the transaction does not stop there. I check their website regularly to see how that transaction is going. I typically buy the Solidarity Blend which not only supports small growers and communities but also solidarity groups (unions for example).
Several times a year Just Coffee sends delegations to their coffee producers. For a vacation you could actually visit the growers, workers, and children who produce your particular blend of coffee. While at this time I may not be able to afford such a delegation, I can certainly see slide shows of those visits. If I wanted to do an office or school fund raiser, I could focus on a blend from a particular country or region.
It seems to me that Fair Trade at its core is about changing our relationship to trade. Its ceases to be solely economical, monetary, or lowest cost, and instead about re-establishing that human to human interaction in the market place.