November 30, 2011- Issue 30 Opinion

Fair trade and morality

Contributing Writer
The following article was originally given as a speech during the Occupy Georgetown for Fair Trade event on campus.

I’m here today to ask you to think bigger than fair trade. There are two reasons I want to invite you to think bigger: the first is a danger of language. That problem of language is thinking of this habit of buying and trading as “fair.” When something is fair, we often think we’ve resolved the problem and don’t have to talk about it anymore. This is especially problematic given that fair trade prices often only nominally increase the income of small producers. But there’s a bigger problem as well: the danger of making morality reducible to right purchases. I am now a better person, I might find myself thinking, because I bought coffee that costs a few dollars more at Starbucks. I am a better person, because I don’t shop at Wal-Mart. How many times have we heard this sort of sentiment?

I’m not saying that changing our buying practices isn’t a laudable goal. But what I am saying is this: Who has access to fairly traded goods, and who doesn’t? What practices and structures ensure that the choice to buy “fair trade” will be out of reach for some people in our communities? So what I want to ask you to do now is to think about all the ways that what goes on all around you is contributing to injustice. Not just in some remote village in the third world that it’s easy for you to sympathize with in theory because you don’t have to see it and don’t have to accept direct responsibility for us. But here. Now. In the ways that you and I treat those of other races, genders, and sexualities than our own.

Just to take a few examples: Women on the whole, today, when discrimination is supposedly over, earn 78 cents for every dollar earned by men. This is nearly 50 years after the Equal Pay amendment was passed. The situation is even worse for women of color. Black women earn on average 69 cents for every dollar earned by men, and Latinas earn only 59 cents on the male dollar. This wage gap is still found when we control for the kind of work being done. Even those men who work in fields dominated by women make more on average than women do. Why is this? We have some good ideas—notably the prevalence of sexism, and indeed, racism.

Here’s the thing, though: No one wants to admit to being racist these days and very few people want to admit to being sexist. And sure, if we took people at their words, it would look like we’re in a position of trying to explain that women just happen to be less qualified than men; that people of color just happen to be less qualified than white people. But I don’t think we should take people at their word about this kind of thing, and I definitely don’t think we should let ourselves off the hook so easily.

There have been multiple studies, for example, that show that when people—even people like us, whothink of ourselves as free from sexism or racism—are given two identical résumés, one with a recognizably feminine name, and one with a recognizably masculine name, they will consistently rate the masculine resume as “more qualied.” The same, sadly, holds true when we study people’s reactions to identical résumés with names associated with white people and people of color: the résumé with white-sounding names are rated to be more qualified, even though the résumés are otherwise identical. This sort of implicit bias clearly affects the earning potential of many, many people, and thus also their access to things like “fair trade” goods.

I’ve already talked a little about racism, but let’s talk a little more about it. Beyond the job market, Black men are being incarcerated at rates far exceeding anyone else. We find, additionally, when we look at the data, that Black men receive longer and harsher sentences for the same crimes committed by white people. And we find that the race of the victim of crimes matters, too. When victims are white, we see incredibly harsh sentences; most people on death row are there for killing white people. But when the victims are Black or Latino, we see a sharp drop-off. Some people’s deaths are more serious than others, it seems. Again, how does this happen? Maybe there are some people out there intentionally seeking to continue racial oppression, but many of us, instead, make racist judgments without even knowing it. Who has access to fair trade? Not people who are serving maximum sentences for marijuana possession, that’s for sure.

In addition to this, let’s talk about sexuality. It is still legal, in 38 states (including this state, Kentucky) to fire people on basis of sexuality. It is legal not to hire them in the first place. All around us, here, our brothers and sisters and friends— and truthfully, some of us right here—remain closeted for fear of losing our livelihoods, or have their livelihoods imperiled and taken away by homophobia.

More locally—adjunct professors in universities across this country, even on our own campus, are grotesquely underpaid. How much do you pay for the classes you take? About $3,000, right? How many people are in your classes? Let’s say that colleges like this one take in about $60K per class. The adjunct professors on this campus, and campuses all over this nation are paid less than $2,000 per course, with no benefits. Again, GC is not alone in this. This is what is considered fair market value, though it is ultimately less than minimum wage, and would, at a full-time rate, still land these adjuncts at far below the poverty line.

All of these things I’ve mentioned—sexism, racism, homophobia and unfair wage practices—affect the abilities of individuals to buy goods that are more fairly traded. Who has access to fair trade goods? Who can buy from stores beyond Wal- Mart? More importantly, how do attitudes and practices that we are complicit in keep people from being able to make the choices that some of us can? With this in mind, it is particularly dangerous to conflate certain kinds of purchases with morality, lest we reinforce the idea that the rich are more virtuous, simply by way of being rich. Please, I invite you: think bigger.

Fair trade and women

Contributing Writer
The following are excerpts from a speech given during the Occupy Georgetown for Fair Trade event.

Consider the oppression that women face globally that causes them to be in desperate need for Fair Trade opportunities:

70% of the world’s 1.3 billion poor, people surviving on less than a $1 a day, are women. Women are paid 30-40% less than men for comparable work. As the primary caretakers of children, the elderly and the sick, women are responsible for meeting the basic needs of the majority of the world’s population. Two thirds of Fair trade the world’s 1 billion illiterate adults are women. 80% of all refugees and displaced persons globally are women and children. 75% of the casualties of war are civilian women and children. When women are poor, families and communities cannot be strong.

One out of every three women worldwide will be physically, sexually or otherwise abused during her lifetime. Violence against women is an extreme human rights violation, a public health epidemic and a barrier to solving global challenges such as HIV/AIDS and famine. Violence also is a major cause of poverty and a huge barrier to economic opportunity. It keeps women from getting an education, working and earning the income they need to lift their families out of poverty. There are more hungry people in the world than ever before: 925 million. Around the globe, the typical farmer is a woman, most often barefoot, working with basic tools and with a baby strapped to her back. Yet despite their important role in agriculture, most women farmers lack the market access and resources needed to increase crop productivity and pay-off. Investing in women directly is the key to preventing future hunger crises.

In general Fair Trade ensures the following:

1) A Living Wage: A livable income covers the basic needs including food, shelter, education and health care for workers and their families.

2) Long Term Investment in People: By building direct, long-term and stable relationships between importers and producers, farmers and artisans have consistent work and job security.

3) Environmental Sustainability: By encouraging environmentally friendly production through the use of local and recycled materials, sustainable harvesting techniques and organic farming practices, Fair Trade farmers are given price incentives and ongoing training, to help facilitate their transition to organic farming.

4) Safe and Healthy Working Conditions: Fair Trade means a safe and healthy working environment for artisans and farmers and no forced or exploitive child labor.

5) Transparent Trade Terms: Fair Trade ensures transparent trade terms throughout the supply chain

6) Empowerment for Women: Fair Trade provides employment without discrimination and ensures equal pay for equal work for both women and men. 70% of Fair Trade artisans are women. Fair Trade not only allows women to earn an income but also provides them with leadership positions and an equal voice in decision making.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: