Britain’s big boy of sugar manufacturing is leading the way with their planned conversion to make all Tate & Lyle products ‘fairly traded’ by the end of 2009. This is a huge step in the right direction as far as I’m concerned and other businesses should follow suit to ensure a fair income for farmers and their employees.
Of course, the responsibility for fair trade doesn’t fall solely on the shoulders of businesses, as individuals we have a responsibility to be consumer aware.
Personal economic status notwithstanding, if something is inexpensive for us to buy and we think it is too good to be true, it usually is. It might seem win -win for us at the point of purchase, but you can be sure that somewhere along the line there’s going to be an employee who does not profit by our advantageous bargain hunting or our perpetually being suckered into supermarket sales promotions.
As a single parent on a low income, I’m not immune to the lures of BOGOF’s and other supermarket ploys to have us purchase cheaply (and thereby frequent their stores more regularly) but every time I bypass the fairtrade items in favour of other brands, I am sending a message to the supermarket chiefs that I will continue to support their endeavours to pay an unfair wage to disadvantaged workers, wherever possible.
I think that many of us have gotten so used to low cost living that to take on board the importance of a fair wage for farmers and their employees is going to mean that we have to lose the attitude of getting something for nothing. In all good conscience though, shouldn’t everyone be be entitled to earn a fair wage for the work that they do and shouldn’t they therby have access toall that comes as a result of improvement in this area? For example, in the areas of education, housing, and healthcare? It’s all too easy for us to turn a blind eye and pretend that our own actions, or inactions aren’t contributing to the problem of keeping the poor poorer than ourselves.
Something else to bear in mind is that when we refer to fair trade we do generally tend to think ‘Third World’. We need to guard ourselves against this way of thinking. There are farmers in Britian for example who make only 3p from the sale of each of their factory farmed chickens (I do not support factory farming but sometimes have had to/do have to make purchases of this type of chicken because it is all that I can afford for my family) – it’s particularly disconcerting to learn that the supermarket who buy these chickens, then go on to sell them for £3 profit. Similarly, a 4 pint carton of milk now costs me in the region of £1.40…the dairy farmer might see as little as 19 pence of that money – the bulk of the profit goes to the supermarket. It’s not surprising that farming and agriculture is seen as something whimsical and nostalgic nowadays….and its all too sad but true that many of our farmers can no longer afford to continue with the businesses and have to fold.
Now, I don’t know many people who could afford to buy all their groceries fairly traded, but perhaps that says more about us and our appetites for consumerism, than it does for the the comparitively higher costs of purchasing fairly traded produce. What I do know, however, is that change can start small and turn into something big. Swapping just one or two items in our weekly shopping to fairly traded goods can send a clear message to the supermarket giants that we shop with a brain, and furthermore, a conscience.
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