WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION VERSUS FAIR TRADE
Please Note: THIS IS A WORK IN PROGRESS AND UNFINISHED. AS WITH OTHER SUCH ARTICLES THE DATE OF LAST UPDATE WILL BE HERE: 05.02.2012 Other articles in this section (Environmental Issues) link in with topics raised here.
To start with let us define what the World Trade Organization (WTO) is and what Fair Trade is. The former is an organization of the world’s most developed countries which seeks to eliminate all barriers to capitalist trade worldwide despite any possible negative consequences. Fair Trade on the other hand seeks to carry out all trade as ethically as possible, with due regard to everybody and to the environment.
Even though fair trade would seem on the face of it to be the most desirable and instinctively the one to be more favoured, it is not, trade covered by legislation of the WTO is almost infinitely more prevalent. The WTO is in fact one of the most powerful and universal of all organizations. To understand why, we need to look at how it operates and who controls it and why.
The WTO is a body of the world’s most powerful companies backed by the world’s most powerful governments which seek to further their influence worldwide in a capitalist way to increase profits. This they do by writing rules of trade which other countries (usually the undeveloped or developing nations), if they want to continue to trade with us, have to abide by. These rules are written only for further profit, nothing else, they make no consideration whatsoever for bettering workers rights, wages, living conditions or protection of the environment. In fact they are specifically against giving in to any of these things at all. They seek to impose these rules regardless of ANY existing rules or laws to the contrary in signatory government’s countries (that is they overwrite any benefits to workers or the environment if they cost money) and this right of the WTO is a law none can oppose. In fact any and all attempts to do so end in strict heavy fines against the country concerned.
This heavy handed approach of the WTO ensures that they get the products and materials at the prices they want; the cheapest possible prices, with no regard whatsoever for human or environmental welfare. In fact they specifically rule against any human or environmental safeguards being written into their rules. In this they are very much dominated by the far rightwing views of the GOP Republicans of the US. These people, or like minded people very much rule the WTO.
So, what sort of pressure can the WTO impose on producer countries. Well they have banned the traditional cottage industry/CO-OP of making plant oils in India, stealing a valuable value added livelihood and bankrupting some of the poorest farmers, many of whom have committed suicide. They pushed this legislation through on the dubious grounds that cottage industry production is unhygienic, regardless of the practice being carried out for generations with little health risk, and they said only regulated stainless presses (expensive and operated by WTO companies) can be used.
Bad though this is, it is as nothing compared to how the WTO manipulate the food supply chain. Their actions have sought to promote Genetically Modified Organisms at all costs, with minimal testing and safeguards and unknown long-term human and environmental consequences. They have forced these crops on as many farmers as possible with reckless zeal because with GMO if you supply the specialist seed, you dictate every penny spent by the farmers to grow it. This starts with the purchase of the seed itself, far more expensive than conventional seed (though companies like Monsanto often sweeten the first purchase) and probably unknown to the farmer, not able to be saved from one crop to plant for the next crop next year as traditionally done. No, the seed MUST be purchased every year from the GM company. This is because the second generation seed is either unviable because it is infertile (often made deliberately to be so) or unviable because the second generation looses many or all of its desired traits. If for some reason second generation seed has no drawbacks, the farmer still cannot use it, because if he does the GM company will fine them for unlicensed use of a GM product! It is a trap, a no win situation. Once the farmer has the GMO crop growing, he has to make further purchases if he is to make a profit. This includes the purchase of specialist powerful sprays such as the herbicide Round-Up which the GMO crop is designed to withstand so that high doses can be used to kill off all weeds. In theory. Except it doesn’t work because many weeds are now becoming increasingly resistant to Round-Up! But never fear the GMO companies have an increasingly deadly arsenal of sprays which the desperate farmer can purchase for just a little more than the price of Round-Up. Unfortunately some weed species have become so resilient that no sprays work any more and the only option left (if it is an option) is hand weeding, which is actually quite organic and would have been the method for weeding before the switch to GM.
What would the farmer hope to get with a successful crop anyway? An increased yield of a better quality. How often does this materialise? Well never actually, GMO crops on average have never produced a grain more in yields than conventional non-GMO crops. They have never been proven to be safe either, causing total infertility in rodents within 3 generations and birth defects in humans (Argentina) whose diets consist mainly of GMO crops. This is without mentioning the huge and totally irreversible effects GMO are having on traditional crops and wildlife’s genes. One has only to look at the havoc US grown GMO corn has wrought on Mexico’s traditional varied varieties of naturally resistant corns to see what can go wrong. Or the problems caused to all organic farmers who end up with their crops unintentionally contaminated by GMO and then the GMO companies having the audacity to sue these same farmers for illegal infringement of the use of a GMO. The rights of GMO companies to patent their modified organisms seems to totally ignore the hundreds of thousands of years of careful design nature put in beforehand, or the country nature chose for this evolutionary process!
The big supermarket chains in the West (but increasingly elsewhere) are the drivers of the WTO. They demand the cheapest products, with as few safeguards as they can get away with, because we the customer put competitive pricing paramount in our minds when shopping. Are we so heartless that we do this? Well, maybe, but maybe not. What we don’t know about we do not care about, so the WTO and the supermarkets would prefer to give us as little information as possible. Take for example the resistance from industry for the labelling of products containing GMO ingredients in the US. But is this the way it has to be? Would people actually pay more under certain circumstances if they knew the reason for the increased price. Never! I hear cry, most people never would. But what if that small increase in price was actually used to improve the welfare of the poor farmers producing the food, for schools and hospitals in their community? Or what if the money were used to safeguard a vital bit of habitat for a threatened species? Would people pay then? Would you pay a little more? What if the producer included a photo and a little story on the packet, making it more personal, would you pay 3 to 5% more?
It seems many and increasingly more people would, and they are much happier with their purchase knowing they are making a little difference for the better to someone else’s life at some far corner of the globe. Happier than if they knew they had saved 4% by shopping around. This is the principal of Fair Trade production, a system where everyone benefits and no-one gets screwed. Happy farmers produce better work and better food and their earning or their community benefits.
If Fair Trade works, even without the universal backing of governments and industry that the WTO enjoys, then why can’t we adopt this system as the new norm? Well the good news is we can, and it is so simple to do, so here is a step by step guide on how to achieve this.
First get in your car, or better still use public transport or even better still cycle or walk to the shops. Walk around the shops picking the items you need, then check the packaging for the Fair Trade logo. If it does not have this (or some similar beneficial attribute; such as free range or organic) put it back and find one which does. Continue with your shopping until all the items on your list meet this criteria, then continue to the checkout and pay. Tell everyone you know why you chose to pay a little more and make sure they do the same.
Its that simple, its called consumer power. The consumer gets what he wants or the shop goes out of business. The shops do not mind a jot what you spend your money on, they just give you what you want so they can make a profit. If you want dirt cheap goods with no ethics then that is what they will give you. If you are willing to pay a little more for ethical goods, so that when you go abroad you see a little less poverty and a bit more wildlife, then that is what the shops will provide.
Now you know how to change the world, stop moaning there is nothing you can do. There is and it requires virtually no effort and very little expense from you! Lets use our consumer power to make Fair Trade the norm and the ways of the WTO extinct.
This article will be expanded and links added when I can find the time.