Dilemmas at the supermarket: Fair Trade and the environment

Fair Trade Fortnight is reaching an end and not everyone has been supportive. Liberal economists argue that fixing prices leads to overproduction, while some neo-Marxists believe that the programmes lock farmers into exploitative trade relationships. Many also argue that Fair Trade regimes are corrupt and inefficient.

These criticisms – that Fair Trade is not an effective way to lift farmers out of poverty – are reflected in environmentalist concerns about the movement.

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The arguments for and against the concept of Fair Trade are complex and value-driven. Some people will always disagree no matter what the evidence. But the criticisms of the regimes are objective and in many cases warranted. When consumers shop ethically they take on a duty to engage with the projects they are funding and decide whether they are worthwhile. If they don’t, the rather premature analysis that shopping for ethical brands is reminiscent of ‘indulgences’; money paid to the Catholic Church in the 16th Century to offset sins, will start seeming somewhat more reasonable.

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