Fair trade – fair for whom?

When I was studying Geography A level Fair Trade was a reasonably new thing to enter the curriculum and it was treated like a panacea. This ultimate solution to the developing world’s problems. It was sold as long term sustainable way for the west to undo the damage it has done in unfair trade practices. It was made out to have come from a bright idea by a kindly western charity that made some clever decisions and got some Trans-National Companies on board and went global with it’s mission to make the world a fairer place.

That is a lie.

I promised to challenge the status quo and make you think twice about things you used to accept.

Fair trade holds the developing world back, it is not a charity nor is it not-for-profit, it does not help the producer as much as it makes out and does in no way help those most in need.

The following comes from the Adam Smith Institute’s (otherwise known as Mecca to me) report on Fair trade from 2008.

  • Fair trade is unfair. It offers only a very small number of farmers a higher, fixed price for their goods. These higher prices come at the expense of the great majority of farmers, who – unable to qualify for Fair trade certification – are left even worse off.
  • Most of the farmers helped by Fairtrade are in Mexico, a relativelydeveloped country, and not in places like Ethiopia.
  • Fair trade does not aid economic development. It operates to keep the poor in their place, sustaining uncompetitive farmers on their land and holding back diversification, mechanization, and moves up the value chain. This denies future generations the chance of a better life.
  • Fair trade only helps landowners, not the agricultural labourers who suffer the severest poverty. Indeed, Fairtrade rules deny labourers theopportunity of permanent, full-time employment.

Quite frankly it is simple economics that is being ignored. If you want to ensure that everyone gets the deal that is best for them then fair trade is not the answer. If you want to join a fair trade cooperative then you have to pay a premium, so the poorest farmers can’t join. The middle income farmers who can join then more money than the others, which causes price distortion in the local markets, the rich get richer, the poor get poorer.

The evidence is there too. Free trade works. Full stop. Countries like India and China up until the 70s had socialist centrally planned supply driven economies. Within 20 years of them giving up these practices and embracing the free market billions of people, billions, had been lifted out of some of the worst states of poverty the world had ever seen. The evidence is impossible to deny. The gaps between the rich and the poor in these two countries has never ever been smaller. They are now on the verge of becoming global super powers rivalling the EU and USA.

The Adam Smith report was very clear:

“Free trade is the most effective poverty reduction strategy the world has ever seen. If we really want to aid international development we should abolish barriers to trade in the rich world, and persuade the developing world to do the same”

Now if there’s one thing that the curriculum got right was the fact that the developed world’s un-free and unfair trade practices are keeping the poorest countries in their place. We insist on perpetuating the idea that Fair Trade is a good thing. We wallow in the self satisfied glow of propping up unfair trade practices. We tell them to produce what we want and not what they need.

To conclude:

Just 10% of the premium consumers pay for Fairtrade actually goes to the producer. Retailers pocket the rest. The money we pay to Cadburys and Nestle for their marketing strategy other wise known as Fair Trade goes to them, not to the farmers in the Philippines aren’t even that poor, not ‘Rwanda’ poor anyway.

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Rent-a-friend

The idea for this post came from Dennis, who you can see commented on my photo in my gallery of a sticker from a Dutch bathroom. I found this in a fish restaurant in the seaside town of Scheveningen.

If anyone cares to translate I'd appreciate it

He kindly translated and explained the premise behind ‘Rent-a-bob’. I must admit I was disappointed to discover there was no man called Bob who you could briefly enslave, for a fee.

Rent-a-bob consists of a person you can hire to drive you home, in your own car. He arrives when you are drunk, and chauffeurs you in your wheels. It’s like the http://www.scooterman.co.uk/ service (which has a great website btw) in the UK.

I must admit I have a bit of an overactive imagination so the idea of a friendly person who comes to drive you home really set me off…

Do you think he kisses you good night?

Does the guy always come wearing that little tie like in the advert?

Can you ask him to come early and pretend to laugh at your jokes?

If you asked nicely would he buy you a drink?

Is it sometimes a woman?

Do you think it’s like an escort service and they’d go all the way for a bit more cash?

Will they choose the music on the drive home or can you?

Are they always called Bob (OK it’s an acronym in Dutch)?

All these ideas were swirling around in my head. They began to coalesce into some fully formed questions eventually.

In the Netherlands prostitution is legal and heavily regulated and licensed. Does this fall under the same laws? Surely what Bob is doing is … ‘something anyone can do, but for money’ which is occasionally used as a definition for what is prostitution. Do you think Bob wears a corset under his tie? Can you take you on an S&M version of the drive home if you pay extra?

Are models prostitutes? Is the person who delivers your newspaper a prostitute? Are the pretty eastern European girls who work in Cafe Nero prostitutes? (Don’t answer that last one)

I think one thing that isn’t a question but a matter of fact is that definition is pretty outdated. It doesn’t even include a reference to sex, which is kind of the defining feature of prostitution.

So, who should set the definition for what comprises prostitution? Should there be one single definition? Does it mean the same thing wherever you are in the world? Do different cultures have different interpretations of the same act? How would you legitimise the definition? Would you go out to consultation? A survey in 100 languages of a representative sample of 1000 prostitutes across the globe.

I’m not going to pass judgement on prostitutes. But… (there’s always a but) I don’t think anyone really wants to be one, people may talk about female empowerment and the right to make decisions about your own body… but really… are prostitutes happy? Do they wake up every morning and go ‘yes! I have the best job in the world!’

The real trouble is being able to tell who is doing it out of choice (however wrong we may consider it) and who is effectively enslaved or indentured. The problem lies with people with lower mental capacity or those in countries that are unfamiliar or children. That’s the worst one. But, you wouldn’t want to go on some crusade to save all the women working in the sex industry. I can’t think of anything more patronising. Fully armed agents from the local council bursting into a lady’s front room while she whipped the local MP, trussed up like a chicken.

Maybe the answer is regulation. In the Netherlands prostitution is heavily regulated, it’s licensed and taxed and the workers are unionised. It’s like working in a school. Just with more PVC.

So, to conclude, some questions.

  1. Is it wrong to have sex for money?
  2. If so, why, give me a good reason.
  3. Who should define the terms around selling yourself and who should police it.
  4. Should we give a damn?

I think Ruth Mazo Karras’ (author of Common Women) take on it is very clear:

“Prostitution exists today because women are objectified sexually, and because it is considered more permissible for men than for women to have purely sexual experiences”

I’m sorry if I’ve taken us on a journey starting with a sticker and a scheme to reduce drink driving to a wholesale debate on the ethics of prostitution.
Go figure.

Blogging – a new persona

I think a lot of people, particularly those I come into contact with through work (the student movement being composed of 80% narcissists, 19% imbeciles and 1% brilliance – no comment on which bracket I belong in…) are very interested in themselves.

Now I have no problem with that, I am a great believer in being ‘the star of my own show’ and ‘looking out for number 1’ etc etc and due to my upbringing I have always felt that selfishness was a trait that was good in moderation.

Let me elaborate. *cough*

I just think that these sorts of people are… destined to blog.

In my mind I group together jobs in: performing arts, politics (us included) and sales into one taxa of human kind. The group in which lying (ok that’s harsh, let’s call it streamlining the facts) is a part of the job.

The idea of breaking free from the real world and it’s battery of ‘when-it’s appropriate-to-talk-about-yourself’ rules and customs strikes me as something those people would be very interested in. What would please a politician more rapt attention and rapturous agreement in their ideas? They can always delete the comments that disagree with them or go in under a pseudonym and post adoration on their own blog.

It’s like a one way ticket to reinventing yourself and being whoever you want to be, or whoever you want people to see you as. Perfect for those who want to streamline some of the unfortunate truths that surround them. I may be doing those sorts of people an unjustice. Actors may just want to entertain, politicians to make the world a better place and sales people to kit the world out in Abercrombie and Bitch. Maybe they should release that tension through blogging and go and be a doctor or something.

Anyway, as you may come to know and love, I like the preface discussions with where I got the idea from… despite being relatively unrelated.

I’ve been toying with the idea of an anonymous blog. I think it’s a very sexy idea, like being a superhero wearing a mask. Think of all the films or books based upon someone living out their closeted desires behind a pseudonym or costume. Can a blog be different? I imagine the inner narcissist in those who are prone to blog (see above) would, if said anonymous blog were to be successful, feel the need to expose themselves so they could personally take credit for it. A sort of coming out ceremony. You could see something interesting there, more than one person taking credit for a particularly good piece of online literature. It’s like when al-Qaeda take responsibility for things they quite clearly didn’t do. I’m pretty sure they’ve taken responsibility for killing the last Pope.

Or you could blog about someone. Now before you start dreaming up images of me hidden in a tree outside someone’s window with an iPad…. think more like, an anonymous blog about someone, by someone who was very close to them. It’s a bit like a fly on the wall scenario, imagine if the private secretary to the Queen kept a secret log detailing her every move? I imagine it would be obvious though who was writing it though. Don’t pretend you wouldn’t read that.

9am – Queen wakes up, demands toothpaste be gently massaged into her gums by Royal trained monkey.

9.10am  – Queen puts on M&S pants in an effort to understand the recession.

9.11am – Queen takes of pants and decides she’s rather go commando.

I would read that. For sure.

Blogs have this dual nature, either to be used to conceal your identity… or to make you more open and transparent. I suppose that only counts for the ones that aren’t about cooking or something, even though I do like those! I can’t think of another medium that makes this possibility so real. Instant mass communication from the comfort of your own home, or tree outside the Queen’s window.

So, in my usual way, some questions… what do you think the future of blogging is? Is it destined to collapse under it’s own weight? Everyone blogging all the time so no one reads anyone’s because they’re either all the same or too busy writing their own blog. I suppose I have to admit some hypocrisy here, having just started blogging myself. Or perhaps it’s about critical mass, maybe one day enough blogs and bloggers will exist for them to sustain each other, with no one stopping or starting, endlessly feeding off each other as sources.

George Siemens wrote:

“The heart of blogging is linking…linking and commenting. Connecting and communicating –  the purpose of the Internet”

But put on your gum shields people, Daniel B. Beaulieu writes:

“The casual conversational tone of a blog is what makes it particularly dangerous”

Given that I wrote above about the Queen going commando, I think that’s the one I’m going to go with.

Redistributing the wealth – but how?

One thing I will miss about working at Leeds Met Students’ Union is the political debates we have in the office.

It’s like a game show… put 5 hyper political people in a room, give them some instant coffee and whoosh, off they go. Our Union is one of the better ones, at least afterwards we kiss and make up.

I do love my workmates very much, they’re my best friends and my political nemeses all at once. Just to emphasise that, we could not come from more different political angles. Although I think sometimes they’re a lot more right-wing than they give themselves credit for (I doubt they would agree with me and blazing row of the day no.3 would start).

We began with a discussion about the UKs wealthiest employee in Higher Education. Interestingly enough this is the funds manager for the University of Oxford. For context Oxford has an endowment worth more than many developing countries are worth annually (over £5.5bn), for additional context, the UK government grants £18bn a year to higher education. Yes I know, scary right. So I can’t remember the exact figure but this person was being paid at least £300k a year.

I say ‘Hmm I suppose that means the fund manager is paid more than the Vice Chancellor’ (I won’t go into it too much, I’ll leave that for another time, but some VCs are paid nearly double what the British Prime Minister is paid a year) which Ben, our Associate President Development, who likes to stir conversations up and chip in with inflammatory comments he doesn’t even agree with, says ‘well you don’t really need the Chief Executive’ … which leads us to a conversation on whether organisations need managerial and administrative leaders, and whether a group of efficient senior managers could do this. For the record I thought the idea was ridiculous.

You know in conversations when you can almost predict what will happen next? And because you know someone so well, exactly what they will say? Yeh we had a moment like that.

Vicki, the Associate President Diversity gives her classic contribution to any discussion ‘no one needs to be paid that’ (in reference to the amount some VCs are paid). Now before my blood pressure hits the roof it’s good to go through what I think we broadly agree on:

  • That the current gap between the rich and the poor is intolerable
  • That some rich people are paid so much that the numbers cease to be relevant to every day life
  • That the very richest (earning millions of pounds a year) could afford to be taxed very slightly more

However, I struggle to see how you can compare the amount being paid to labourers in sub-Saharan Africa with the richest people in the USA. They are worlds apart and the pressures and expectations on their income and expenditure are so different. However the typical lefty approach is to generalise everything and equate the two together. This was characterised by Vicki’s announcement that, and I quote, “3% of the population own 95% of the world’s resources” which quite frankly is a lie. I’m not sure about the 2% in the middle too. The number is still a shocking 20% owning 80% but let’s not lie.

Vicki thinks that people paid sums like this are paid too much. I think that no one is empowered to say what constitutes ‘too much’. In fact, society sets these things. The market (the subject of much abuse, poor market) isn’t some evil corporation run from Washington DC, it’s the collective efforts of every person in a given area to improve their lives. It is directly responsible for lifting billions of people across Asia out of poverty, yet it gets a bad rap. Anyway, that’s a tangent (get used to it, oh and get used to my riotous use of brackets). So, aside, the market decides these things. If it deems the skills or attributes a person has to be worth a certain figure then who are we to argue with the democratic, collective will of all people participating in the market as a system.

So, how would you redistribute wealth? It’s a good point, I don’t think that people on the economic right (myself included) have come up with a good enough way. I agree to being taxed, although I think I am being taxed too much. That draws us into a discussion – for another blog I think – on taxation and what it’s used for and consent.

So do we create an amnesty? Hand in your cash millionaires! Or maybe a telethon, which Blue Chip company CEO can promise a £100,000 by midnight? Or maybe a huge collective penny collection drive to reduce poverty in urban areas. It may sound like I’m making fun of poverty but I’m not, I’m serious. Other than increased taxation how could it work?

I know there are numerous possibilities around gentrification and the beneficial social impact of large companies on communities etc and jobs and stuff but it’s not concrete. If you look back at my MAP testing entry I talked about being a shaper. I’m trying to unify taxation policy, the left and right of the political spectrum and gentrification into a single glorious concept. No wonder I’m struggling.

One thing I think we can all expect from my blog is that it will probably raise more questions than it answers.

Map Testing – team work roles

Some of my staff members take part in a professional development course. It’s very expensive and as an outgoing member of the team I never thought I’d see the benefits.

Until now.

The new officers at Leeds Met Students’ Union (2010-11), including my successor, we offered to take a self-assessing 7 section quiz. It explains itself as “this questionnaire is designed to ask you about the way you feel you typically like to contribute to teamwork” it asks you to rank statements then assigns you one of 8 team roles.

The roles are both positive and negative, all of them are needed to form a successful team but some of them struck me as similar. You can have primary and secondary roles, so if you’re working in a team and there is someone who is more dominant and is in your role, you assume the next down the list.

The idea of the roles is of course subconscious. I’ve only been dimly aware of the role I played in team work. It was obvious at training courses or with people who were less senior than I have been in the past that I immediately assumed an organisational role.

The possible choices are as follows:

Implementer: Practical organisers. They turn decisions into manageable tasks. They are disciplined and rely on structures. They are the most likely to bring an organisation chart or time line to a meeting.

Completer Finisher: They check every detail and ensure that nothing has been overlooked. They have a sense of urgency and galvanise the group into action. They are a compulsive meeter of deadlines.

Team Worker: They are sensitive and good communicators. They are unassertive and popular, they are the cement of the team. Their instinct is to build on existing ideas rather than suggest new ones.

Resource Investigator: They are enthusiastic but prone to put things down as soon as they have picked them up. They go outside the group and bring information, ideas and developments back into it.

Monitor Evaluator: They are serious and unexciting. Their strength lies in analysis and preventing the team from committing to misguided project. They assimilate, interpret and evaluate large quantities of written material and have excellent judgement.

Plant: This member is the ‘scatters the seeds which the others nourish’ they are the main source of ideas and creativity. They can be flamboyant and artistic but can be prickly and can cause offence.

Shaper: They are the social leader of the group. Their strength lies in shaping the team’s efforts and trying to unite ideas into broad feasible project which they urgently push forward. Only results can assure them.

Coordinator: They preside over the team on a task level and coordinate efforts to meet goals and targets. They are preoccupied with objectives. They focus on the individual strengths of the team members and establish the roles.

I completed the assessment on the train from Leeds to London, first ticking statements I thought were accurate then going back through it and ranking them. This methodical approach should have been some indicator of the role(s) I was to be assigned.

I completed my assessment with 3 roles appearing my most preferred. One of the three was a good five points over the rest.

Shaper: at 18 points, Implementor: at 13 points and Monitor Evaluator: at 12 points. Incidentally I got 0 points for Plant and 2 points for Team Worker.

The descriptions I find frighteningly accurate. I am forever trying to take a complex problem and either, distill it down into a single phrase or idea, that or breaking things down into small chunks. And all three roles suggest an almost religious deidcation to results and objectives and figures. All me to a tee.

The whole idea of group dynamics is an interesting one. Is this all subconscious? Can you take on roles when someone stronger is ‘sitting in your spot’? Can you become a Plant if you’re used to being a Team Worker or a Monitor Evaluator? How does one acquire these roles? Is it something you pick up or develop? Were you born that way?

Another idea is that some of the roles are more positive than others. I can imagine everyone wanting to be a Shaper or a Coordinator. And some harbouring smug pride at being the Plant.

Some might dismiss this sort of test as new agey-HR-‘know yourself’ nonsense but I would encourage them to take the test! It’s called a Belbin Test, learn more here:

http://www.belbin.com/rte.asp?id=175

Humble beginnings

I am:

  1. Right wing. To the core. I define as liberal and pluralist.
  2. A student, of sorts. Studying Peace Studies and International Relations at Leeds Met in Leeds.
  3. International. I have a bad case of multiple nationality disorder.

My blog aims to:

  1. Challenge preconceptions people have about the world. I thrive on smashing the status quo.
  2. Entertain people. I would like to make you stop and think about something from a new perspective and maybe chuckle at what you used to think.
  3. Educate. My blog will be littered with factoids and unreferenced data. I am unrepentant.

I will write as:

  1. Honestly as I can. I may change names occasionally.
  2. A libertarian. I am certain in my conviction that people know what is best for them (but not always what is right for them – but the former wins out).
  3. A means to express myself and understand the world around me.

If you find me breaking these rules, please let me know, I will consider apologising, but don’t hold your breath.