“You Can’t Wake a Person Who’s Pretending to Sleep”

The more I have learned about fair trade, the more I have realized how complicated global supply systems really are.  I have also realized how difficult it is to purchase truly ethical products, because a product that is “good” in one way may be “bad” in another way (e.g. is a product both socially and environmentally sound?).  This TED Talk explains some of the issues associated with unsustainable products and realistic solutions.  I recommend it to everyone, and yes, watch the entire video.

This TED Talk (“Jason Clay: How big brands can help save biodiversity”) mentions 15 Key Commodities related to the loss of biodiversity. These commodities are: palm oil, cotton, biofuels, sugarcane, pulp & paper, sawn wood, dairy, beef, soy, fish oil & meal, farmed salmon, farmed shrimp, tuna, tropical shrimp, and whitefish.  I have a particular interest in palm oil, for reasons that I will explain in another post; however, I am also interested in how fair trade could be applied to the 15 commodities and how fair trade could fit into the framework described in the video (if you have any ideas, please add them to the comments section).  Environmental sustainability is a crucial aspect of any system that will be fair in the long run, as this article rather direly outlines.

There are many things I love about this TED video, but I want to focus on the ones that I think are most applicable to fair trade.  The video discusses shifting the entire supply chain of the 15 commodities by focusing on the top 100 companies that control 25% of the trade of these commodities (for the full picture and details watch the video).  It will be difficult, but I think this could work for sustainability.  Could the same concepts be used for fair trade?  Could a more socially fair system be implemented at the same time as an environmentally sustainable system for the 15 products?

One of the things I love most about the video is that Jason Clay is not afraid to say that we, as consumers, should be paying the true price for our products.  I could not agree more, but I have found in my own experience that many people balk at fair trade because “it costs too much,” or “I can get the same product for less if it isn’t fair trade.”  Excuses like this ignore the very real social and environmental, as well as economic, costs of our consumerism.

This leads to another point made in the video, that sustainability needs to be an integral part of the global trade system, not a choice.  I agree, and I also think that social equity needs to be a part of the system, and not a choice on the part of the consumer.  I know, for example, that I have bought plenty of unsustainable and non-fair trade cotton shirts; wouldn’t it be great to live in a world where all cotton was fair and sustainable?  I know for sure that I do not have all the answers (but perhaps you have some, please comment if you do) but what I have realized is that we all have to stop pretending to be asleep.

Contributed by Fair Trade Intern Megan Draper

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