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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Fair Trade Series

Many of the historical and current trading relationships between producers in the global South and consumers in the global North (the First World, or industrialized countries) have been and continue to be characterized by exploitation of Southern producers. According to David Ransom writing in the New Internationalist magazine, Ever since industrial trading empires began, in the seventeenth century, natural resources and wealth have been extracted from the South and built up in the North. There’s nothing very different about globalization today—except that the empires are run not by nations but by corporations. They fix rules so that ‘free trade’ is a game only they can play on what they call a “level playing field”—which in reality slopes ever-more steeply in their favour. Fair Traders, North and South, are trying to turn the process around.

To take cocoa as an example, 43% of the world’s cocoa comes from the Ivory Coast region of West Africa. There have been ongoing reports of child slavery on cocoa plantations in this region. Furthermore, hundreds of thousands of West African children (between the ages of 9 and 12) work in hazardous conditions on cocoa farms. Many of these children work because the price paid for conventional, non-Fair Trade Certified cocoa is so low that farmers cannot afford to send their children to school. Cocoa farmers live in such poverty compared to Canadians that many have never even tasted the finished product of their labour – chocolate.

Many other consumer goods that we in the global North take for granted—for instance, coffee, sugar, tea, bananas, rice, flowers, wine, sports balls and cotton—involve similar stories of exploitation, poverty, and hardship experienced by Southern farmers and labourers. As a result of many factors, which range from historical trade inequities and the influence of international economic institutions like the World Bank and the IMF to global fluctuations in prices for commodities like coffee and cocoa beans, farmers and workers in the global South experience poverty and hardship.

Stay tuned for Part II...

(Excerpt from "What In the World Is Fair Trade?" from Cocoa Camino: written by Clay McLeod.)


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