Selfishness and Consumption

I was just thinking about the Fairtrade movement. It occurred to me that “fairtrade” is effectively a euphemism for “I’ll not use my position in a member of a rich, developed country that bulk-buys produce on a huge scale in order to screw over farmers”.

Reading the side of a bag of sugar, telling me that buying fair trade helps to provide “education to farmer’s children”, you’ve got to wonder what else the purpose of buying sugar is, in addition to gaining some sugar, than to pass a portion of my generated value along a chain—rather than merely to get something as cheaply as possible. The selfish satisfaction in securing the cheapest deal is very shallow and short-lived.

It’s a sad state of affairs when capitalism is able to be reduced by its detractors, without it being reductio ad absurdum, to the statement that capitalism promotes greed when its real core value is promoting efficient wealth/value distribution amongst a society.

Of course, you can blame this on big business, but really even greedy consumer-facing businesses will go where consumers lead. If consumers want cheap clothing, they put pressure on businesses who then put pressure on their suppliers and so on. Our Western companies have huge buying power and so can exert a huge amount of pressure on suppliers which is reflected further and further down the chain. And in the end you have farmers who can’t afford to send their children to school. If consumers make it obvious they want to purchase ethically produced rather than cheap goods, companies will emerge to solve that desire. The same has happened with all the “green” products now flooding the market.

Some resort instead to demanding stores produce their goods ethically, which is a way of a minority forcing the issue on the majority, but what it comes down to is we seem selfish and just don’t care about anything beyond the cost to our pocket and our sense of entitlement.

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