Simon | 25.02.2006 19:47 | Globalisation
Barbara presents a plaque to the mayor
There were drummers
Fair trade unicyclist
Hear ye! Hear ye!
Anne Snelgrove gets in on the act
Press photo opportunity by the new poster
The town crier rang his bell and brought the ceremony to order, and the children sang a song about the benefits of fairly traded goods, to the tune of “if you’re happy and you know it”, with everyone shouting “fair trade” at the end of each line.
Poverty campaigner Barbara Aftelak explained to the crowd that Swindon was now a Fair Trade Borough, and she presented a framed certificate in honour of this achievement to Mayor Ray Fisher.
Anne Snelgrove, South Swindon’s Labour MP spoke about how proud she was to be working to combat poverty, by going to Yemen and giving some children the first pencils they’d ever seen. She said that she wanted the people of Swindon to keep the pressure on her to bring about trade justice, before unveiling a new poster in one of the regular advertising hoardings.
The MP, the Mayor, the Bishop of Swindon and the kids with their fair trade flags then all stood in front of the new poster and posed for the photographers.
So now Swindon is a Fair Trade Borough, does that mean the town is completely free of products obtained by exploitation? Unfortunately not, it just means that a sufficient number of shops and food outlets offer a range of fair trade products, and that the council serves fair trade tea and coffee in the canteen. The products of exploitation are still there all around us, and still account for the majority of our consumption.
With Fair Trade Fortnight coming up, says the cynic in my head, no doubt sales of goods with the Fair Trade branding will go up, and with a bit of luck the ideas of paying people a fair price for what they produce (even if it’s more expensive than exploiting them) will start to seep into people’s heads. But there is a risk that people will make a one-off purchase of something with the right branding, and then go back to their normal consumption habits safe in the knowledge that they’ve “done their bit” for trade justice. If only it was that easy.
Trade injustice is one of many symptoms of a world in which increasing amounts of power and wealth are controlled by a diminishing number of ever-larger mega-corporations.
By achieving an effective monopoly on the market for farmers to sell their produce, they drive prices down ever lower, often forcing the farmers to abandon their land and seek work elsewhere just to earn enough to feed themselves.
Having the ability to move or outsource their operations to anywhere they wish, they do everything where it is cheapest, leading developing world countries into a “race to the bottom” in terms of wages and employee protection, in order to attract businesses to their country.
The world is being run for the benefit of business and profit, not for the benefit of people. Decisions affecting the livelihoods of millions of people are governed by the circulation of arbitrary (and often virtual) units of currency, with no consideration for the impact on those people. This is what needs to change if poverty is ever going to be made history, and the public awareness being raised by the Swindon Fairtrade Coalition and other trade justice campaigners is but a small step towards that goal.
The opinions expressed in this report are my own, and are not necessarily those of the groups and individuals who organised and took part in today’s ceremony.