In the last 50 years, the UK has experienced increasing levels of prosperity. The post-war Victorian slums with their urchins and privies are a thing of the past, and we are now in a position to take healthcare, education and employment for granted. Indeed, throughout the developed world, the majority of people now enjoy a relatively good standard of living. One of the main reasons for this turnaround has been a liberalisation of trade. But while the West has profited, the developing world has suffered. Poor countries have been forced to open their markets to cheap imports: so cotton farmers from Mall, for example, cannot compete with their subsidised counterparts in the USA and Europe.
In recent years, fair trade--both as a concept and a brand--has gained increasing support from the general public, as demonstrated by the thousands of people who attended the Live8 concert in Hyde Park on 2 July and the subsequent Make Poverty History march in Edinburgh. And judging from the outcome of the G8 summit in Gleneagles, it appears that governments, financial institutions and multinationals may finally be beginning to take fair trade seriously, too.
According to the Fairtrade Foundation, equitable trade will ensure that developing world producers "have control over their own future, have a fair and just return for their work, continuity of income and decent working and living conditions through sustainable development".
The concept of fair trade seems to be clear. But how will it work in reality? It's clear that we need to see changes in international policy. But what can we do as consumers? How much difference are we making when we buy products with the Fairtrade Mark? Are we really improving the livelihoods of producers in the developing world? Or are we just subscribing to another form of branding, an affirmation of a lifestyle choice?
Fair trade: a trading relationship whereby buyers in rich countries guarantee a fair price for goods from developing nations. Fairtrade Foundation: a British organisation which licenses the Fairtrade Mark to products which meet internationally recognised standards. Trade liberalisation: the removal of tariffs and other trade barriers with the intention of promoting prosperity among both weak and strong nations, but which has led to market dominance by the industrialised world. Trade justice: a campaign against free trade which supports rewriting trade rules in favour of poor countries and the environment. Comparative advantage: the theory that two countries will benefit from trade even if one can produce every kind of item more efficiently than the other, because each can still specialise in goods which they can produce relatively more cheaply. G8: the world's seven richest nations--the UK, the USA, Italy, Canada, Japan, France and Germany--and Russia. Make Poverty History: a British alliance of more than 500 charities, trades unions and lobby groups and celebrities.
free trade: failing the poor
The same post-war trade agreements which have enabled industrialised nations to prosper have perpetuated poverty in the developing world
Trade is as old as human society itself. Neolithic communities in the Middle East traded products such as flint knives over thousands of kilometres, and later, merchants on the Silk Road exchanged luxury goods between the Roman, Byzantine and Han Chinese empires.
More recently, following the Great Depression and the disaster of the Second World War, the promotion of international trade was seen as vital to fostering international prosperity and peace. In Europe, the post-war Common Market--a highly successful free-trade arrangement between countries in Western Europe--encouraged closer political ties that led to the establishment of today's EU. In 1948, twenty-three nations established the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) to promote free trade across global boundaries, paving the way for the past SO years of rapid economic globalisation. …