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Wow. What a thought. Is FairTrade discriminatory?

Actually, yes.

The institution of FairTrade (as exemplified by FLO) is, in practice, discriminatory even though this outcome is counterintuitive and unintended. The reason for this is simple: FairTrade is culturally insensitive. The FairTrade standards have two parts, Generic (that apply to all producer organizations and commodities) and Specific (that apply to specific commodities). The standards make no mention of the differences in agricultural culture or markets that exist in different countries.

To suggest that the cocoa culture and markets in Ecuador are the same as Cameroon is absurd. To ignore these differences in official policy is, ultimately, discriminatory. To be truly fair, FairTrade standards would recognize that significant cultural and market differences exist around the world and embed them in their standards - and in the formulas used to calculate premiums.

Now I understand why there is a single standard - it's a matter of bureaucracy and handling paperwork. It's just easier to have a single policy that gets applied worldwide. It also eliminates any protests over favoritism - Ghanaian cocoa farmers would probably complain if cocoa farmers in nearby Cameroon or Liberia "earned" a  higher premium, even though by international metrics farmers in these (and other) countries are not as well off.

Nonetheless, the focus on the commodity - and not the culture and markets - leads to the unintended consequence of discrimination through donning cultural blinkers, especially in the minds of consumers: farmers in "developing countries" around the world have exactly the same needs and therefore "benefit" equally from the same premium. In the end, I think, it may be the perpetuation of this stereotype that is the most damaging unintended consequence of FairTrade.

To be honest, this issue is one that has no easy answer when it comes to the creation of a system that can be adopted on a worldwide basis. I've been thinking about this off and on over the course of the last few years.

Any thoughts?

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