This month Dublin will seek to become the first capital city in Europe to become a Fairtrade city. It might sound like a gimmick but there’s real meat in the proposal.
In short, the whole thing is about solidarity with working people in the third world. It’s about trying to get that greatest of Tom and Jerry acts, producers and consumers, to have common goals.
Try out the first principle of fair trade and see how it fits you. In order for you to have prosperity is it necessary or acceptable for others to be locked in poverty?
No? Yet the price of goods is very persuasive when you get to the supermarket. What’s required is a basic contract between the third world producer and the first world consumer. A guarantee of a fair price.
That’s what the Fair Trade mark and trade justice is all about. The Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO) is the body behind the Fair Trade mark. It inspects producers throughout the developing world and makes sure that minimum standards are met. These include a ban on child or bonded (basically slave) labour, a fair price by local economic standards and transparency to fight against exploitation.
Until relatively recently the only place where you could buy Fair Trade goods would be in an Oxfam shop or the like. What the Fair Trade movement is trying to do is to get the goods into main street shops, into the malls and into the heads of shoppers before they go shopping at all.
So campaigners in local areas have been trying to get themselves recognised as Fair Trade areas. The first town in Ireland to be designated as a Fair Trade town was Clonakilty in 2003. Since then the idea has spread rapidly.
In Dublin Temple Bar made its move in March and now Dublin City as a whole aims to follow.
What is required is for the city to commit itself to using and encouraging the use of Fair Trade products. Local businesses and organisations give a commitment. A strong feature is the promise to raise awareness generally of trade justice issues and to involve schools in the idea.
There are those who will scoff, particularly those on the right who believe that the almighty market should be left alone to sort these things out. But social solidarity is very powerful and our success here in Ireland would have been impossible without the trade unions, widespread access to health and education, and a wider share in prosperity.
At a practical level Fair Trade guarantees producers basic prices so that they can plan and invest. Studies have shown that coffee co-operatives in Latin America, for example, were able to grow and prosper on the back of Fair Trade guarantees. In turn there was greater participation in education which, as we know well (with thanks to Donogh O’Malley), is the fundamental key to economic progress.
Fair Trade products are beginning to appear on shelves everywhere. At times they can be a few cents dearer that the usual stuff. But a few cents spent here goes a long way to supporting decent living standards in the third world.
If Dublin does indeed become the first Fair Trade capital, then it’s something that we should be well proud of.