From Mags Vaughan
Sir, - There has been much comment after the recent publication
of the report from the School of Oriental and African Studies
(SOAS) about the level of impact of the Fairtrade mark on poor
communities. Given fair trade's humble beginnings - coffee and tea
packed in brown paper and sold in the back of churches up and down
the UK - it was good to see the issue raised (News, 30 May).
Traidcraft, as one of the first suppliers of those brown-paper
packets, welcomes the SOAS report, which contributes to our greater
understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the Fairtrade
certification system. We believe, however, that great care should
be taken before drawing conclusions from any single study about the
impact of fair trade on the poor.
We should remember that this is a scheme that works within the
current and very inequitable global food system. Fair trade
originally set out not just to benefit poor farmers directly, but
to create new trading systems and alternative forms of trade to
provide a more level playing field for producers disadvantaged by
existing trade rules.
Traidcraft focuses its efforts on this, and on developing
long-term relationships with customers and producer groups. We know
that these longer-term relationships provide greater benefits for
disadvantaged families and communities, because we have seen the
evidence for ourselves.
Let us remember the real scandal of trade and the poor. A few
hundred powerful companies still control the majority of world
trade. Banks use our savings to speculate with food prices, and
international traders make profits out of food shortages.
We should not lose faith in a system that cannot possibly hope
to do everything, but which, through the power of congregations in
churches, has done so much to transform the lives of hundreds of
thousands of smallholder farmers, their families and communities
all over the world. Here at Traidcraft we will continue to seek to
"act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God".
Gateshead NE11 0NE