A few months ago my colleague, Jenn wrote about the chocolate industry and how if it’s not fair trade chocolate, there is a good chance child slavery has played a role in it’s production. Now, child slavery isn’t involved in every consumer good that isn’t labeled “fair trade”, but child slavery isn’t the only injustice that fair trade aims to tackle.
According to Fair Trade Canada “to ensure the farmers and artisans behind those products get a better deal. Most often this is understood to mean better prices for producers”. It also means that the products (garments, produce, etc.) are produced with fair labour, with fair wages and better working conditions.
Now does this mean that the working conditions are really better than those working for a non-fair trade company. I’m skeptical, I mean I’m sure they are better, but are they really that much better? I think this would be a difficult aspect of fair trade to monitor, I’m sure that there is monitoring of working conditions but I’m not sure how effective they are.
Regardless of the effectiveness of the fair trade label, I am still a supporter. I know that it is far from perfect but it is still better than the alternative, in terms of fairness for the farmers and artisans in the developing world. However, I don’t think that this is the solution to putting an end to forced labour, child labour, unsafe working conditions, etc that are all present in the production of many products we all buy.
My reasoning behind this is fairly logical, our society loves a bargain. With retailers like Wal-Mart, H&M, and Old Navy always supplying consumers with “great deals” on their products, it’s hard to resist. These companies are able to offer such great deals because of the way they produce their products, as cheaply as possible, so they can still make a profit off while selling their products for cheap. The truth is, there is a pretty high cost for these products but the consumer isn’t the one that has to pay it, it’s the labourers that pay the high price of a great bargain.
Wal-Mart has been found to be involved in child labour in Bangladesh with a factory that supplies some of their garments. The cotton used in much of H&M’s stylish clothing has been bought from plantations in Uzbekistan where child labour is used to pick the cotton. The Gap (the company that owns Old Navy) has for years now been known to use child and forced labour in extremely poor working conditions to produce their garments. I could go on with more examples of well known companies that have been caught or suspected of using child or forced labour in the production of their products but I would be here for days as there are very few companies that are not tainted by these types of speculation.
Both Wal-Mart and the Gap have been in the public eye before for these same reasons, yet they have not changed much. Both are still suspected of producing their goods in poor conditions paying workers unacceptably low wages for long hard hours. Yet both companies continue to thrive, Wal-mart brought in over 30 billion dollars last year, and the Gap brought in over 6 billion last year.
Fair trade is not the answer to stopping child, forced, and unfair labour because it is still happening and will continue to happen. The poor in the developing world will continue to be exploited because everybody loves a bargain. Companies that offer these bargains aren’t going to stop selling their products cheaply because that’s what the consumer wants and that’s what makes them money. The only way fair trade can put an end child, forced and unfair labour is to get everyone on board, and that won’t happen unless there isn’t a demand for a deal. Sadly, I think there will always be a demand for bargain.
What do you think? Feel free to comment below!