How Fair Trade can make people first policies competitive

ByKate Meakin . London

25 February 2011
Some FTAK farmers that I met in Waynaud enjoying life

Kerala is a unique state in India. It has lots of things to boast about including a minimum wage, politically active and trade unionized citizens, high literacy etc etc (click here for lots more info). These achievements manifest themselves very visually to the visitor, I have been here for a month and a half and I have seen one beggar and no slums (I went to Mumbai and within the first 3 minutes I had seen 4 beggars, 2 of them beneath the age of 2, and I’d already seen the huge slum from the train window). It has been the subject of discussion for many social scientist and the unique ingredients have come to be known as the “Kerala Model’.

But the problem is, implementing all these standards come at a price and in the big world market race to the bottom, that price is too high to compete. So I sense that Kerala is at a bit of a crossroads; there is pressure from outside and within to do away with some of the rules around labour and wages. To put it into context a farm labourer would get paid around 200 rupees for a day’s work in Kerala, whereas the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu pays about 40 rupees and so can afford to offer lower priced goods to the world market. So there’s no other option it seems but for Kerala to join the rest of India and do away with these people first policies.

Well hold on a minute… Fair Trade Alliance Kerala, in particular the promoter Tomy Matthew, would like to propose an alternative. There is a market where decent wages, labour rights and unions make you more, not less competitive. This is the Fair Trade market. This small but growing market offers a framework in which commodities that are produced to certain social and environmental standards can succeed.

Beyond Kerala there are other governments who are looking at how to encourage fair trading practices. The Brazilian government passed a law that will promote Fair Trade practices in government and society and other governments, like that in Malawi, resist neoliberal pressures to maintain minimum prices.
With this in mind, there is a conversation to be had about the role Fair Trade can play in preserving sustainable and fair farming practices which are implemented not just on a farm by farm basis, but on a state or even country scale. And the conversation needs to start now before the Kerala model is something just on paper, rather than in the land and with the people.
To read a more full discussion around the issues please email me on kate.fairtrade@gmail.com to receive a copy of ‘Fair Trade and the Kerala Model’ by Tomy Matthew

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