Thursday, September 18, 2008

Chapter 1 Update: Why Fair Trade Isn't Just for Coffee Farmers Anymore

The basic premise of my book is that Fair Trade is a strategy for confronting poverty—both material and spiritual. The failure to meet basic material needs of people in the Majority World (a term coined by Albert Tucker which now replaces for me the term “global south”) is the most glaring concern, while in the Minority World people and communities suffer from a lack of meaning and fulfillment due, in part, to the negative effects of over-consumption. I make the case that Fair Trade addresses a range of concerns: it help improves the lives and communities of both producers and consumers and does so in ways that are sustainable for the planet. But just as Abraham Maslow demonstrates in his hierarchy of human needs, the concerns of the materially poor are the most urgent, and that means that Fair Trade is more than just about getting a great cup of justice java.

One way to track progress on efforts to alleviate economic poverty is to consider whether or not the world is achieving its Millennium Development Goals. In 2008, the UN Development Program released a report trying to answer the question: Are we on track to meet the MDGs by 2015? Here are excerpts from the report’s website:

Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty & hunger
: The goal of cutting in half the proportion of people in the developing world living on less than $1 a day by 2015 remains within reach. However, this achievement will be due largely to extraordinary economic success in most of Asia. In contrast, previous estimates suggest that little progress was made in reducing extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa.

Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education:
 The number of children of primary school age who were out of school fell from 103 million in 1999 to 73 million in 2006, despite an overall increase in the number of children in this age group.

Goal 3: Promote gender equality & empower women
: As part of its success in raising the total primary enrollment rate, Southern Asia has made the most progress in promoting equality since 2000. Sub-Saharan Africa, Western Asia and Northern Africa have also made strides in reducing gender disparity. At the same time, Oceania has taken a step back with a slight deterioration in gender parity in primary school enrollment. Oceania, sub-Saharan Africa and Western Asia have the largest gender gaps in primary enrolment. In Western and Central Africa, where high repetition and low retention rates are common, girls in particular fail to enroll in and stay in school.

Goal 4: Reduce child mortality:

In 2006, for the first time since mortality data have been gathered, annual deaths among children under five dipped below 10 million. Success!

Goal 5: Improve maternal health
 In sub-Saharan Africa, a woman’s risk of dying from treatable or preventable complications of pregnancy and childbirth over the course of her lifetime is 1 in 22, compared to 1 in 7,300 in the developed regions.

Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria & other diseases
: Every day, nearly 7,500 people become infected with HIV and 5,500 die from AIDS, mostly due to a lack of HIV prevention and treatment services.

Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability:
 Globally, carbon dioxide emissions increased by 30 per cent from 1990 to 2005, with annual growth from 2000 to 2005 greater than in the preceding decade. Per capita emissions remain the highest in the developed regions, about 12 metric tons of CO2 per person per year, compared with about 3 metric tons in developing regions and 0.8 metric tons in sub-Saharan Africa.

Goal 8: Develop a global partnership for development
: Adjusting for changes in prices and exchange rates, aid disbursements from governments fell by 8.4 per cent in 2007 compared to 2006.

The final goal speaks of global partnership in the context of economically poor countries receiving development aid from economically richer countries. But for Fair Traders, partnership in terms of shared vision and responsibility is the core of their mission. Many factors such as weather, armed conflict, disease and food shortages—whether in times of crisis as the world is currently experience or through failures of distribution—contribute to suffering around the globe. Fair Trade can’t confront them all but, as the book describes, it seeks to adhere to core principles focused on treating people with respect, investing in communities, protecting the planet, and infusing consumption with awareness of its impacts.

The official Fair Trade Definition offered in Chapter One may soon be supplemented by a new charter of principles written by two preeminent Fair Trade umbrella organizations: IFAT and FLO. As of May 2008 the introduction of the draft states,

“Fair Trade is, fundamentally, a response to the failure of conventional trade to deliver sustainable livelihoods and development opportunities to people in the poorest countries of the world; this is evidenced by the two billion of our fellow citizens who, despite working extremely hard, survive on less than $2 per day. Poverty and hardship limit people’s choices while market forces tend to further marginalise and exclude them. This makes them vulnerable to exploitation, whether as farmers and artisans in family-based production units (hereafter “producers”) or as hired workers (hereafter “workers”) within larger businesses.”
IFAT and FLO have requested feedback on their full draft charter and I, thanks to my work with Catholic Relief Services, will be attending the IFAT Global Conference in May 2009 for the latest updates. By commenting below, you can share your reactions to the charter, as well as to progress on the MDGs, now. I will carry your perspectives forward as best I can.

Part of the reason I am providing chapter updates via this blog is that I hope readers of the original Fair Trade: A Beginner’s Guide and of the chapter updates will add wisdom and experience that the Fair Trade movement needs to become closer to achieving a shared reality of economic justice. To participate, please comment!

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