There are a few words such as "fairness" that most of us agree describe proper behavior. It feels good to behave fairly. More than good, being fair even makes us feel a little superior to those who don't think and behave as fairly as we do. Sometimes we go so far as to try to impose our feelings of fairness on those other, less enlightened, people among us. That is what a group of Fair Trade zealots, abetted by the Mayor, is trying to do in La Mesa.

         Not content to identify products as "Fair Trade" and allow consumers to make the decision as to whether or not to buy them, this group wants the City to declare, on behalf of all 59,600 of us, La Mesa to be a "Fair Trade City" (and to commit to certain requirements of the movement). That action gives an endorsement and a marketplace advantage to Fair Trade products over others that don't carry the label. I don't know how many La Mesa residents have heard about Fair Trade, but I'll bet that even those who recognize the name know very little about the ways in which it attempts to manipulate the marketplace, and whether or not it achieves its lofty goals.

         It takes more than good intentions and nice sounding generalities to win my support. After having done a little reading about the movement, I am convinced that knee jerk buying of Fair Trade products is not a wise or even a moral thing to do. Before blindly jumping on the fair trade bandwagon, I recommend taking time to read more about it. One good reference is an even-handed article published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review (Stanford University) in the summer of 2011: The Problem With Fair Trade Coffee. While the article discusses only coffee, it provides some insight into the complexity of trying to "fairly" manipulate the marketplace. The following quotes from that article are illustrative:

 "Despite these achievements, the system by which Fair Trade USA hopes to achieve its ends is seriously flawed, limiting both its market potential and the benefits it provides growers and workers."

 "Thus the chances increase that the Fair Trade coffee will be of consistently lower quality."

 "Fair Trade also provides incentives for some farmers to remain in the coffee business even though the market signals that they will not be successful."

 "It is rare to find a retailer or coffee roaster these days that does not address social issues in some way. Some do so by offering Fair Trade coffee. Others, however, have sought out other solutions, such as adopting other certifications or by developing their own programs."  "A number of exporters and importers in the coffee business are saying we can get more money into the pockets of farmers through direct trade than if we use the Fair Trade model."

 "…. Which has led some in the coffee business say that Fair Trade is primarily a marketing organization."

          After reading the article, you may decide to continue to purchase Fair Trade products. That is certainly your right. Others might, as I have, decide that there are too many problems associated with Fair Trade products to give them preference over other brands. Regardless, this is not a matter with which the City, speaking on behalf of all the citizens of La Mesa, should be involved. It is especially inappropriate for the mayor to use his office to further his personal opinions about matters not within the City's responsibility. I doubt that most of those who voted for him expected that he would do so. And the tawdry behavior of the Mayor and the FT zealots in defying the City Council is straight out of the Chicago playbook. La Mesa deserves better.

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Tags: Fair Trade La Mesa, La Mesa Today, La Mesa business, La Mesa news

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