Is fair trade the new free trade?

Fairtrade logoToday is the start of Fairtrade Fortnight here in the UK as the Fairtrade Foundation tries to raise awareness amongst consumers about the full cost of the goods they buy and the effect that cheap produce has on producers world wide.

They define Fairtrade as:

Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. By requiring companies to pay sustainable prices (which must never fall lower than the market price), Fairtrade addresses the injustices of conventional trade, which traditionally discriminates against the poorest, weakest producers. It enables them to improve their position and have more control over their lives.

It’s a topic that was mentioned in the latest ESRC press release which asks whether Fairtrade is the new Free Trade, the movement from about 100 years ago which sought to promote peace, justice and democracy through bringing down trade barriers. It’s the subject of a new book by Frank Trentmann, the director of their Cultures of Consumption programme of research.

This reminded me of a job I used to do – cataloguing pamphlets from the archive of the National Liberal Club – while I worked at the University of Bristol Library. Free Trade was certainly a pre-occupation of some of those pamphleteers and who knows, a few years down the line, those 19th century musings will be (freely?) available in the Web 2.0 world. I’m pleased to say that some of these resources are being digitised as part of the CURL project called Nineteenth Century Pamphlets Online, part of a JISC Digitisation programme.

Intute: Social Sciences features more Internet resources on the issues of Fairtrade, Economic History and Free Trade.