The Patient Is Ill

As one who has tended to be drawn to the Fair Trade (FT) label on a wide range of products, I have always been pleased that some of our cooperative partners in Nicaragua are part of that movement. Their participation has simply felt right, and just, as they have sought to connect with a consumer base around the world which has been eager to support the small producer effort. It has seemed a “win-win” circumstance about which both the end user and the producer could feel good. But there is a growing cause for doubt about both the fairness and the trade in FT, and reasons for all of us to take a closer look at the evolution this once- (and future?) empowering concept.

In a very well-researched and analytical article authored by researcher(and consultant to WPF) Dr. Rene Mendoza, he has undertaken a close look at cooperatives in Nicaragua and other  Latin American countries , to assess the effectiveness of the FT movement.  After studying the symptoms and complaints of the cooperative “patients,” he has also offered a detailed diagnosis of the ailments, including contextual  analysis of the pathology which is draining the energies from cooperatives and their members.  His conclusions should provide all parties interested in the FT ideals with both understanding of the disease and hope for its cures.

Dr. Mendoza attributes no blame for the spread of the unhealthiness, but does identify the complicity shared by all of the actors within the FT chain, from producer to consumer.  He identifies both the malady and its contagion points and has created a clinical treatise on where it leads if the disorder isn’t treated.

The best news is that Dr. Mendoza’s article includes several prescriptions for healing and recovery.  He does not offer a magic pill for immediate wellness.  And restoration of confidence  in a system that initially hoped to marry producers with well-intentioned consumers, in a win-win undertaking, will require serious treatment. Like any well-considered rehabilitation, the restoration to full health is likely to be slow and demanding.  It will require patience, discipline, a collaborative mindset and re-focus on values.  But full remission is possible.

For anyone who has ever purchased a product under the FT label, or sought to be supportive of small farmers in a small way by purchasing their goods, I encourage the reading of Dr. Mendoza’s work.  WPF has provided a link to this groundbreaking research on our website homepage, under the column with Dr. Mendoza’s photograph, and entitled, “Toward the Reinvention of Fair Trade.”

Read it.  It may change your thinking about that next cup of coffee, or that recent chocolate bar and the truth about how it may have reached your home….

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