Freedom and Fairness

February 26, 2007

Here’s a fun experiment anyone can do. Find someone who espouses neoliberalism (they’ll call it “free-market economics”). Ask them why coffee farmers are poor.

Power is the ability to exercise freedom, and freedom is the ability to exercise power. The worker and grower are not directly (i.e., at gunpoint) forced to accept the transactions on whatever meager terms they are offered, but the other choice is suffering and possible starvation. This is the freedom neoliberalism offers them, which is, of course, no freedom at a

You might expect me to say that corporations hold the power. They do not. If they did, fair trade would be one more fad on the conveyor belt of fashion, and corporations would not have to colonize nearly every flat surface for advertising. Clever as some ads are, they only serve to obscure who really holds the power.

You hold the power.

That’s why they work so hard to get your attention. That’s why they use words and pictures that bypass your judgment and appeal to your emotions. That’s why they work so hard at cultivating their brand image.

They can’t take your power from you, because a seller needs buyers. They can, however, make you forget you have it, and make you feel fortunate to be buying from them. This is backwards, of course, because your freedom is not a matter of fortune, it’s an inalienable right.

When you look at commerce this way, the picture shifts. You can exercise your power deliberately. You can use your freedom to uphold the freedom of others.

This is the highest understanding of fair trade.

Quotes from a brilliant article from Steve Herrick, editor of Just Things, reprinted by Tradeaid NZ.

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