Thursday, August 25, 2011

Beyond Fair Trade

I spend a lot of my time promoting Fair Trade in coffee and other products, because so-called free trade is so destructive, as I have explained in many ways throughout this blog. Increasingly, though, I see fair trade as transitional, something I hope will not be needed 20 years from now. I am beginning to work with some of my coffee students on this question, and will explore it with farmer friends during my 2012 sabbatical.

My friend Dean Cycon -- a leader in fair trade -- says it best in the first paragraph of the Epilogue to his masterpiece, Javatrekker:

"Our understanding of justice, in trade and society in general, cannot be confined to a formula. Fair Trade, or any movement that is intended to improve the quality of life for people, is more accurately seen as a process. The more we work with the peoples in this book and beyond, the deeper we plunge into the dynamics of their societies, their ecologies, and their economies. Each layer reveals a more profound set of relationships that we must consider as we evolve toward more humane and just relationships. Being open to the experiences of each culture not only makes us more aware but also makes our lives richer. Thus the tales in this book are only footsteps on a long and continuing trail."
... and from the last pararaph:
"For me, Javatrekking is ultimately about personal and societal exploration. I have never been fully comfortable with what it is, when I know in my heart that things can be better, more respectful, more loving, and, frankly, more exciting. It pains me deeply to see cultures crumble and blow away under global pressures (or simply for lack of water), or kids' lives go unfulfilled for want of a pencil or notebook. Javatrekking allows me the vehicle to explore my own relationship to these things and to take responsibility where I can. These may be small contributions in the greater scheme of things, but as an old Indonesian farmer advised me, quoting Arjuna's words to Krishna on the eve of battle, 'Add your light to the sum of lights.'"

Most of us in the West will continue to live a life that is enriched by the impoverishment of others. Most of us will never journey to see that impoverishment with our own eyes. Those connections are real, and certifications -- Fair-Trade, Sweatshop-Free, Bird-Friendly, and so on -- do matter and do help. They are a meaningful step above doing nothing. But somewhere between certifications and Javatrekking is a whole world of possibility for doing more.

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