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Thats a pretty bad article on fair trade. Leaving aside the singular focus on France, a large part of fair trade products do work under unified operational standards and do not "rely on self-evaluation."

My girlfriend (who some of you met in Paris this weekend) currently works for the certification organisation for the Fairtrade brand in Bonn, FLO-CERT.

She has also been talking about the problem with certification, but with a slightly different take on it. FLO-CERT do send inspectors to all producers and traders applying for Fairtrade certification, as well as yearly inspections of everyone after certification.

The problem thought, is that to keep all the actors in the system "fair", rules and regulations are constantly sharpened and the size of the control apparatus is growing. Which increases cost.

This again increases the certification cost, driving down wages at the production end and increasing product cost at the consumer end. So their constant challenge is to make an "airtight" certification and control system that ensures their standards at the lowest possible cost to producers and consumers.

Personally I don't think fair trade is the magic bullet to solve world inequality, but I am pretty sure it helps. But I also would be very uneasy about trusting any fair trading standard that only relied on self-evaluation.


For Maisonhaute, it is unthinkable to systematically verify production standards on the ground in developing countries: ``Given the number of producers and the distances to cover, the cost of travelling to each location would be unbearable.''

This allows the Adam Smith Institute, a British think tank that promotes free trade and is one of fair trade's harshest critics, to denounce what it sees as a marketing initiative rather than a new model for economic justice.

This "he said. she said"-pieces is unfair both to the Fair trade organisations as well as to the Adam Smith Institute. (Unless the "institute" is unaware that a significant portion of fair trade actors are actually inspected regularily.)

by Trond Ove on Mon Sep 22nd, 2008 at 08:13:46 AM EST
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