Why Fair Trade Matters

I want to take some time to talk about fair trade, both within the context of our current system as well as how it might look going forward.

Let’s start with a fact: Our current economic system, whatever you want to call it, is exploitative. It is built on exploitation and slavery, and there isn’t really any way to contest that. From chocolate to textiles to seafood, I could endlessly list industries – almost every single one is touched by this kind of exploitation on an industry-wide scale. Enter fair trade.

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Free trade and colonialism

There are many arguments against free trade deals that we’ve seen.

One of the most popular is that they bleed jobs from here and ship them overseas. While that is somewhat true, as has been pointed out many times, automation is a much bigger factor in the loss of many manufacturing jobs, both here and abroad. Another one applies specifically to the TPP and concerns privacy rights, IP rights, and letting corporations usurp government regulations by challenging them in a “court”.

But I want to address today another objection, one that I haven’t seen much. One of the standard arguments for free trade deals is that they will “create jobs”, if not here, then at least in other countries. They will help them “develop”, they say. They will “lift people out of poverty”. They will help them make use of their resources and labor.

It may not look like it, but it’s a rehashing of the same old tired argument that white people (or countries and companies run by white people) will come in to “save” the poor savages and help them “develop”. When you say that these multinational corporations will bring jobs and bring technology, it implies that the native people are not able to do it on their own. It implies that they’re not able to actually make anything, that they need guidance from the generous white people.

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