I've always been a huge believer in fair trade.
Partly for selfish reasons: I don't want to give up tea or chocolate.
Partly for humanitarian reasons: I believe that when done right, fair trade really can empower local communities. This isn't a theoretical assumption either. I've physically seen a few communities that have benefited from fair-trade production.
But it's becoming more and more clear to me, that within the feel-good sticker of "fair-trade certified!" there are some huge disparities among philosophies.
Yesterday, I went into my local coffee shop (big mugs of tea, and a discount for students!!) and saw a little sign proudly proclaiming their coffee to be fair-trade certified. It further noted that a share of the money from the coffee went to buying acres of land in the rain forest.
You see it all the time. On chocolate. On coffee. When you purchase carbon offsets. This money will go to buy land in the rain forest!
Now I admit, that until now, I'd never stopped to consider the implications. But suddenly, I was very, very uncomfortable.
That rain forest? It's part of a sovereign nation. You know? The one they call Brazil?
Yup. It's not ours. And Brazilians are understandably very defensive of people who try to say otherwise.
How is this helpful? How is it helpful if Americans and Western Europeans keep buying up land in the Amazon? How is this empowering local communities? How is this helping Brazilians build a better life? How is this fair or just?
Look, I'm worried about deforestation in the Amazon, too. But the ugly truth is, America and Western Europe completely deforested their land years ago. Why should we appropriate Brazil's land simply because they had the "misfortune" to be last in the major deforestation game?
What's the better solution here?
7 months ago