Category Archives: Things I like

Why I really ran the Brighton Half Marathon

A big thanks to everyone who sponsored me for the Brighton Half Marathon I ran last Sunday, but a week on and I’m wondering what, exactly, this event had to do with charity.

Don’t get me wrong, I do think the charity I ran for (Water- Aid) is a worthwhile charity, doing good and saving lives, but I’ve got to be honest and admit that I didn’t primarily run this race for charity, I did it for myself, and the charity issue was very much a secondary after thought.

Seriously, I love running, and when I was planning my ‘race-calender’ for early 2012 a few months back, the Brighton half stood out as a conveniently timed, accessible (no changes on the train!), flat course that was perfect for my first half marathon, a step up from the handful of 10ks  I enjoyed in 2011.  I would have run it anyway, but just before I paid my entry fee I decided to double check the charity options – and water aid offered a free place for a minimum sponsorship of £250. Perfect!

Firstly, this fitted in nicely with the module I teach in Global Development – nice synergy, something to get the students interested and make me look like a generally nice guy….

And I did find that being the guy that runs for charity gives you positive social status and an easy focus of conversation at work for a few weeks – A bit like the ‘holiday conversation’ – you get to interact conversationally without having to go into too much depth – and both of you have a generally positive experience – I mean only the most cynical political radicals are suspicious of charity (in retrospect this probably goes some way to explaining why I didn’t actually get to the £500 total I pushed for – too many of the people I asked for cash fall into that category).

I had a great time in the six weeks or so before the event – raising cash for water aid by literally doing nothing else other than sending emails, tweeting and Facebooking, checking my emails telling me ‘Great News, you’ve just been sponsored and then logging onto my ‘Virgin Money Giving’ page to witness the rise and rise of my total donations, and then a few quick exchanges with some old friends.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the positive affirmations of my identity – which can get kind of rare as you approach your 40s. Its nice to be known as someone that hasn’t let himself go – and is capable of posting times that would put most people in their 20s to shame (endurance running’s like that you know). Apparently men my age doing endurance events is something of a social phenomenon. Guilty – But when you look this good – who wouldn’t be.

More – I had a great time at the ‘training event’ laid on by water aid in mid January – free lunch, goodies, and a nice ego boost during the pacing exercise – I especially enjoyed a ‘certain glance’ from the ludicrously attractive woman from studio 57 fronting the even – unfortunately said glance wasn’t suggesting she was interested (she most definitely wasn’t) – but it did say ‘you don’t need to be here you idiot this is for people not used to running’ (well I can never resist a Freebie).

The run day itself was good too – beautiful and sunny – nice atmosphere – good twitter conversations – enough free Lucozade to bathe in and lunch and beer afterwards – spot on!

So at the end of the day ‘I’ may well have raised a few hundred quid for water aid and a couple of dozen people may well not die of malaria as a result, but strictly speaking I’m sure I’ve benefited more – I mean, seriously, money cannot buy the advances in self-actualisation I’ve realised through running this half marathon for charity.

Having said all this – I still rate genuine charitable giving as one the most important acts people can engage in – so thanks to all who donated – for their sake, as well as mine. And if you didn’t sponsor me in the first instance because you are one of those ‘charity cynics’ – how about sponsoring me now for saying it like it is – by clicking here!

Related posts – (forthcoming)

  • Why we run
  • Why did you sponsor me?

 Related Posts

Why do so many people run marathons?

Clone of above and this

 ‘Race for Life’ vs Movember

Sociological insight into ultras

Unecessarily Jargoned abstract about veteran running and ageing discourse – probably because the author doesn’t really have that much to actually say.

 A book – but focussing on women

Top Ten resources for teaching International Development

Part 1

I start off with a few statistical sites and then move onto a few ‘qualitative sites’. 

1. The United Nations International Human Development Indicators – On this page of the UN’s international development site, you can see the HDI country rankings, get a link to the latest Human Development Report (last one published November 2011) and find 8 different visual tools that allow you to compare HDI data in different ways – For more info on what the HDI actually is then click here

2. World Bank Development Indicators – The World Bank produces stacks of data – their country profiles are especially accessible (Haiti’s on the link as an example). If you really want to experience information overload then you can search ‘by topic’ and by ‘indicator’ and get huge amounts of data – in table, map or graph format on literally hundreds of different measurements of development. Finally, the world bank also publish annual development reports and the Atlas of Development – maybe old school to go for books, but very tactile!

3. It might seem a bit cheeky including it as a seperate link – because a lot of info comes from the UN or the World Bank – but Google Public Data is an excellent way of showing students immediate comparisons of changes in a range of economic and social indicators of development in several countries – just search for the relevant indicator – you get fabulous ‘live data’ –  If, for example, you get the lines for ‘DRC’ – then Bangladesh, then the UK, for example, the graph rescales itself, giving an immediate impression of how insigficant the former two’s GNI is compared to the UK’s!

4The CIA World Fact Book – remains one of the most authoritative overviews of ‘265 world entities’ – mostly countries, under the various headings of ‘geography’, ‘people and society’, ‘economy’ and so on. Very accessible, and there is also a version available for your smart phone. I didn’t want to actually include it in its own right – but Wikipedia’s country profiles are pretty much a more accessible version of the CIA world fact book -check out this profile of Nigeria as an example

5. The World Watch Institute’s State of the World Report  – No list of development resources can ignore the issue of ‘sustainable development’ – and the World Watch Institute is devoted to the analysis of global environmental concerns. Its ‘flagship publication – ‘The State of the World’ – ‘remains the most authoritative “go-to” resource for those who understand the importance of nuturing a safe, just, and healthy global environment through policy and action.’

6 The rough guides – Maybe not strictly deserving of being in at number three – but they are very engaging reads! Personally I’ve always loved lounging around, leafing through rough guides, planning journeys – and they’re a great way of giving students a hyperreal, romanticised image of all the countries they’ve never been to and probably, when it comes to most of the countries we look at in global development, will never go to!

7. The Guardian Poverty Matters Blog – Mostly excellent, short snappy posts focussing on a range of development issues – mainly focusses on Africa, health, aid and trade, but then again they are the biggest development issues facing Euro-donors! All students of international development should subscribe to its RSS feed.

8. New Internationalist: People, Ideas and Action for Social Justice – Campaigns for social and environmental justice worldwide, acting as a vehicle for unheard voices. They are non-profit co-operative and are probably most famous for their New Internationalist Magazine – and you may have also seen their ‘no-nonsence guides’ (which are excellent!). They also do an excellent blog (update daily) and have some good audio-visual sources.

9. The World Dev elopment Movement The World Development Movement ‘ seeks to establish economic justice. This means the right of poor communities to determine their own path out of poverty, and an end to harmful policies which put profit before people and the environment.’

WDM produces research and campaigns on two main issues – climate debt and food speculation and they are not afraid to criticise Corporations, governments and even aid agencies where appropriate!

10. Oxfam – Must be the best known Development charity campaigning around the world to fight global poverty. Oxfam also has some good ‘teacher resources’ for a range of age groups.

Sachs should pay their tax

Great Video by UKUNCUT – Storming a Tax Conference to thank Dave Hartnett for letting big companies off their tax bills.

 

Comedy aside, this is a very serious issue – A recent report by the Public Accounts Committee accused HMRC of having a ‘far too cosy’ relationship with big firms, which are treated more favorably by HMRC than other taxpayers. HMRC’s own figures suggest that claims the total owned may be £25.5billion. By contrast, families and small businesses are treated much more harshly and forced to pay up.

In total, the report says, HMRC is seeking to resolve more than 2,700 issues with the biggest companies, with a potential tax at stake of £25.5billion. The £25.5billion is HMRC’s own ‘ballpark estimate’ of the maximum potential tax liabilities of big businesses

The sum owed by corporate giants is the equivalent of £1,000 for every British family, or the equivalent of everyone in the UK paying an extra 6p on the basic rate of income tax.

The report singled out HMRC head Dave Hartnett for criticism over his dealings with Goldman. Goldman Sachs had cut its UK tax bill cut in 2010 after a privately negotiated deal with HMRC allowed it to avoid paying interest payments on £30million back taxes it owed.  

So what can the little guy do against this Corportacracy?

One thing UK Uncut are doing is to issue Formal legal proceedings against the Revenue and Customs (HMRC) on Thursday over allegations that it let the investment bank Goldman Sachs off paying up to £20m in outstanding tax.

The application for a judicial review, initiated by the campaign group UK Uncut Legal Action, will be lodged with the administrative court in London. The organisation has called for the government to crack down on tax avoidance by large corporations and the super-rich rather than pursue its “unnecessary austerity programme”.

Tim Street, director of UK Uncut Legal Action said: “There is overwhelming public support from unions, NGOs, MPs and thousands of ordinary people who want to see this dodgy tax deal challenged in the courts.

“It shows the deep level of outrage that people feel over state-sanctioned tax dodging by big business, while government destroys public services that ordinary people rely on, saying that there is no money.”

Street accused the government of “making a political choice to turn a blind eye” to what he views as a wider tax issue that costs the public purse £25bn a year and of “slashing public services and the support for the poorest instead of clamping down”.

If you want to help UKUNCUT in their legal challenge against Goldman Sachs – you can donate here

 

Plan B – Some alternatives to the government’s austerity programme

A recent report – stemming from compass and the New Political Economy Network – entitled ‘Plan B: A Good Economy for a Good Society’ attempts to outline where the left should be on economic reform – and offers some useful alternatives to the current Conservative government’s programme of public sector cuts etc.

The starting point of ‘plan B’ is that the government’s present ‘Plan A’ is not working to tackle our economic problems – The Tory’s ‘deficit reduction strategy’ is to  reduce public spending by £130 billion over five years – which means drastic cuts in public services – There is growing evidence that this isn’t working – the IMF now even predicts that such measures are insufficient to boost our economy – as well as the fact that  ‘In every case where governments have pursued austerity measures to stave off the threat of the bond market, the ensuing contraction in their economies has increased market doubts about a default, leading to higher interest rates and therefore a vicious cycle of economic decline.’

Plan B calls for far reaching, yet not especially radical (to my mind at least) reforms of the economic system – stating that ‘The only viable economy of the future is a green economy and one that recognises that gross domestic product (GDP) is not a sufficient measure of economic performance. Just some of the economic proposals put forward include – It includes both short term and long term proposals – here are the short term proposals!

Short Term Emergency Measures to address our current economic problems

  1.  Maintaining present levels of government expenditure rather than cutting – which is seen as necessary to avoid a ‘double dip’ recession.
  2. Quantitative Easing (this basically means the government increases cash flow through issuing bonds) to create a ‘New Green Deal’ – So far since 2009 the government has released £275bn through ‘quantitative easing’ – but this has gone straight to the banks who have in turn invested most of this in international commodity markets rather than lending to UK businesses and stimulating economic growth. Instead – Plan B argues that governments should be raising money to be invested in the two items below
  3. Firstly, training a carbon army – to be employed in such things such as making houses more energy efficient – not only will this involve creating more skilled jobs but also have the effect of saving people money on energy bills, which in turn can be ploughed back into the economy. 
  4. Secondly money should be used to Cancel out certain Private Finance Initiatives – £50bn spent now can save £200 bn in the long run – a particular favourite of mine
  5. Raise the incomes of the poorest – through increasing benefits and tax credits rationale here is that these are the people who will spend money – thus stimulating economic growth
  6. Taxing financial transactions – to avoid the destabilising effects such transactions can have on national economies – this is pretty much in line with what the Robin Hood Tax guys are saying. The amount that could be raised here is staggering –

Research on the possible revenues from a financial transactions tax published by Tax Research LLP in 2010 suggested that total global yields from a tax of one half of a basis point (one 200th of 1% or 0.005%) on spot and derivative foreign exchange dealing would raise approximately $33 billion annually, while a tax at a similar rate on exchange-traded and over-thecounter bond, gilt, derivative, swap and other trades could yield approximately $118 billion per year.30 Obviously these are global figures, but the large volume of trades taking place in the UK suggests that the UK’s share of this revenue would be substantial.

(On reflection, no. 6 appears to be a longer term goal – along with the idea of combating the £70bn the UK loses through tax dodging….)

I’m not sure how palatable these arguements will be with the general public, some are clearly more sellable than others – the cancelling out PFIs for example – while the raising the income of benefit claimants – I can’t see that winning popular support – but at least this is a starting point for thinking about short term alternatives to the Tory disaster zone.

The rest of plan B – which is 40 pages long in total – details the longer term vision for a fairer economy I’ll include details of the longer term measures later

Can rejecting mainstream western values make you happier?

One of the happiest people I ever met, during a 6 month stay in a Buddhist centre, was a monk named Rabden – curious, I thought, how a man who had rejected just so much of what we regard as normal in Britain, could be so happy. He had no full time job to give him status, he owned no possessions, he obviously had no wife, no friends in the Bessie sense of the word, he never watched TV or listened to music, the only clothes he wore were orange and yellow robes, and he lead a very constrained life of giving classes on Buddhism and meditating. I mean, for Buddha’s sake, he didn’t even have a Facebook account. How on earth could this person be so happy?

Now I know that not that all Buddhist monks are happy, and that not that not all people who are not Buddhist monks are unhappy, but when you meet someone as happy as this individual, it inspires you to know what they know, in this meeting inspired me to learn more about Buddhism and its approach to happiness – 20 years on I think I’m ready to pass this understanding on – but I’m going to break with Buddhist tradition (i.e. I’m going to intellectualize about this rather than live it) and try and demonstrate how the Buddhist path to happiness is the antithesis of how most of us seek to be happy in Western society.

I think this is pretty useful, and fits in nicely with  a few recent sociological/ psychological books on happiness and why so few people are actually happy in western societies. Books such Oliver Jame’s ‘Britain on the Couch’, Michael Foley’s ‘The Age of Absurdity’, and Richard Layard’s Happiness are the kind of books that spring to mind – but this offering is less social-scientific and more personal and spiritual (pseudo-spiritual is probably a better label).

What is happiness and how do we realize it – According to (my interpretation of) Buddhism?

First of all – the way Happiness is conceived of in Buddhism is different to the way it is conceived of in Mainstream Western Society

Achieving happiness for most people in the United Kingdom hinges on accumulating objects, people or states of mind that are believed to be desirable and avoiding objects, people and states of mind that are believed to be undesirable.

The ‘logic of happiness’ is as follows: ‘If I am currently in a state that I want to be in, then I am happy; or, ‘if I am in an undesirable state (for example, at work for many of us) then if I can only get to where I want to be at some future point, then I will be happy in the future.

To give some typical, concrete examples of how most of us think about happiness, it is quite common for many of us to equate happiness with desirable states such as being on holiday, while out shopping for nice new, desirable things; when we are with people we like. Similarly, when we are in undesirable states, we often find ourselves thinking about some happier time in the future: ‘If I can just get that car; have that hairdo; afford that holiday; get drunk at the weekend then I will be happy. Such thoughts are very typical in contemporary Britain, and hardly anyone would take umbrage with anyone else expressing such thoughts.

The above logic of happiness is based around the individual making effort to accumulate things that he or she does not have in this moment. Happiness involves being in a state that one believes to be desirable.

Happiness in Buddhism, on the other hand, is more about being content or satisfied, or sometimes just enduring what is in this present moment, rather than striving to achieve happiness at some future point.

The logic of happiness is ‘I am in this state; I accept it and I will be fully aware in it and focus on it, whether or not I deem this present state to be desirable or undesirable’. The logic is one of fully focusing on the present, on whatever is occurring, on whatever arises, even if that is not pleasant, rather than focusing on states believed to present that one believes one will be in some future time.

To give a concrete example of this, rather than finding myself unhappy at work and distracting myself from work with constant thoughts about what I will be having for dinner later, or about what I will be doing at the weekend, the Buddhist way is to give up on those thoughts of future pleasure and focus on what one is doing right now, in other words, one gives oneself up to the moment whether pleasurable or undesirable rather than giving up on the undesirable moment and distracting oneself with future thoughts of pleasure.

The logic of happiness in Buddhism is one of making an effort to focus on the present, making an effort to control one’s thoughts and desires so they do not take me away from this moment right here and right now. Happiness, or more accurately contentment involves giving up ones desires and accepting what is.

So the Buddhist ideal is one of achieving happiness through giving up desire, rather than trying to gain those things that one desires. This is a logic of happiness to be realised through detachment, rather than happiness to be gained through attachment.

The feeling of this type of happiness is one of peace of mind, of contentment and satisfaction with what one has rather than one of an excited lusting after what one desires, a calm contentment with what is, rather than a seeking after the high of attainment of what one desires.

The implication is that the feeling of happiness in Buddhism is one that is much is calmer than the typical visions of happiness that we have in the West, which often tends to involve images of ‘peak experiences’, of winning a contest, of gaining something extraordinary, of buzzing on a high.

The Buddhist Path to Happiness

The key to happiness in Buddhism is to follow something called the noble eightfold path – and this essentially boils down to the following principles – this isn’t a full interpretation of what’s involved in following Buddhism but these are some of its core principles – (the tenets as named in the path are in brackets)

  1. Knowing yourself and your ‘true nature’ ‘(right understanding’)
  2. Developing compassion (‘right thought’)
  3. Residing in the truth (‘right speech’)
  4. Renouncing material goods (‘right action’ – NB there is a lot more to this, but this is key!)
  5. Doing worthwhile and ethical work (‘right livelihood’)
  6. Leading a disciplined, routine life (‘right effort’)
  7. Being aware of what you are doing and not being carried away by passionate emotions (‘right concentration’)
  8. Meditating (‘right meditation’)

It’s worth noting that these tenets (which aren’t that dissimilar to most other mainstream religious ethical codes) argue that self-constraint and thinking of the social consequences of one’s actions are as important as ‘taking care’ of your ‘self’.

It is further worth noting that all of this links into a certain view of the nature of self and reality – there is logic behind what we should do to be happy and what the nature of the self really is – but I’m not going into that here (it’ll take too long)

The Buddhist view of happiness compared to the Western view of happiness

It is striking how the means whereby so many of us are encouraged to achieve happiness in the West is so often the complete antithesis of how to achieve happiness (defined more accurately as peace of mind) in Buddhism – to contrast to the 8 fold path above – it is not unusual to see people suggesting that one does any number of the following to be happy –

 

  1. Constructing and expressing your self – i.e. your self-identity – through consuming products, constructing a narrative of the self on Facebook, and our obsession with biography and celebrity all suggests we see this as crucial to happiness
  2. Putting yourself, or at least your family first and acting out of self-interest – rather than devoting yourself to the service of others (ok so a lot of people give to charity, but this is after one’s sorted oneself out)
  3. Acting/ concealing aspects of the truth or just downright lying  – ok I’ll admit that lying is generally frowned upon, but our obsession with privacy maybe suggests we like to conceal the fullness of ourselves from the world – and isn’t acting out social roles really just lying about who we really rather than being fully open and honest?
  4. Accumulating stuff and attaching yourself to particular people and values – this is obvious – and it includes our obsession with romantic love and children.
  5. Doing a job primarily for the money rather than the social good – ok once again there are plenty of people who choose to do socially useful jobs, but many who see work as just a means to an end.  
  6. Being free to pick and choose, being freedom from routine, trying new things, striving to constantly reinvent yourself – this speaks for itself
  7. When at work – switching off – again – this should ring true with many
  8. Always doing rather than sitting still – one of my pet hates – we tend to think the happiest people are the busiest – not necessarily true.

So that’s the rather eclectic theory out of the way but the question I’m left with is this – and talk about a question that’s going to be a total nightmare to control for and operationalise – are people who are more inclined to define happiness as ‘peace of mind’ and seek happiness through Buddhist means happier than those who define happiness as ‘maximizing peak experiences’ and who seek happiness through the means of mainstream Western Society?

Related links

The Buddhist way to happiness

Buddha – Pursuit of Happiness

The sources of happiness according to Buddhism

Can Buddhists transcend mental reservations?

I hold Jamie Oliver responsible for my present anomic condition

Reserach suggests Jamie Oliver is responsible for 27% of anomic feelings experienced by UK males aged between 30-39

He’s such an inspiration that, in my efforts to emulate his energetic,  socially-conscious uber-interesting, jam-packed, metro-sexual-male-having-it-all life-style, I simply don’t have time to make his delicious home made-pasta recipe this week – I mean, I’m sure you can feel my pain, I’m gonna have to sink to the lows of bying pasta-in-a-packet.

Fortunately this month’s ethical consumer magazine has a handy guide to packet-pasta and sauce, that allows me to purchase pasta according to my ethical standards – i.e. to avoid purchasing from companies that damage the environment, harm animals, or employ their workers under poor conditions. Actually, perhaps this is another reason why Oliver is responsible for my Anomie – he did such a great job setting up his 15 restaurant, giving local unemployed teens a chance, and then he goes and becomes the face of Sainsbury, which, like the other three supermarkets, are intent on maxmising profit, often at the expense of people and planet.

 

Anyway, back to the pasta –

If you care about animals, you might like to boycott the Bertolli range

The two with the lowest scores include Buitoni (Pasta and Sauce) – owned by Nestle, Bertolli (sauce) – owned by Unilever, and Seeds of Change – owned by Mars (I was expecting Monsanto with a name like that) – this last one’s particularly deceptive as it look so lovely and cosy-homely-organic.

For details of why you might want to avoid the above pasta varieties – follow these links

Boycott Mars – it’s basically over animal testing

Uniliver – is buying palm oil from companies who destroy the rainforest

And Nestle – it’s still babymilk!

The best buys – Clearspring Pasta and La Terra e il Cielo  

Fair Trade Versus ‘free trade’

Fair Trade has expanded massively in the last decade – Here’s a few reasons why I like Fair Trade and why I don’t like the neoliberalised free market. I should have posted this for #worldfoodday – better late than never. Obviously relevant to Global Development course – a post on the limitations of fair trade is coming later

 

Fair Trade – Core principles and practices

‘Fair Trade involves thinking about the practicalities of trade and asking questions such as ‘can trade be made to work for rather than against commodity producers in the South, can the process of production be democratized, ownership shared, organized labour encouraged, child labour unnecessary, environmental sustainability and human rights promoted. Can consumers be induced to think and pay more than they currently think is necessary? Is it possible to survive and even thrive in and against the conventional market place? Is there any bottom line other than price and profit?’[iii]

‘Fair trade is an alternative approach to conventional trade and is based on a partnership between producers and consumers. Fair trade offers producers a better deal and improved terms of trade. This allows them the opportunity to improve their lives and plan for their future. Fair trade offers consumers a powerful way to reduce poverty through their every day shopping.’[iv]

 

What is ‘Fair Trade’?

 A useful and accessible starting point is to turn to in the New Internationalist’s ‘no-nonsense guide to fair trade, in which the author argues that ‘Fair trade addresses the injustices of conventional trade, which traditionally discriminates against the poorest, weakest producers. It enables them to improve their position and have more control over their lives.’ In concrete terms, Ransom distinguishes 7 ideals (see below) that businesses involved in the fair trade movement should be committed to. Despite recent concerns that Fair trade is not as ‘fair’ as it might be in practices, these 7 ideas are still firmly embedded in Fair trade International’s standards for producers and buyers  and include the following

1.         Democratic organization

2.         Recognized Trade unions

3.         Decent working conditions

4.         Environmental sustainability

5.         The minimum price guarantee

6.         The social premium

7.         Long-Term relationships 

Given that one of the core principles of the fair trade movement is ‘democratic organisation’ it is both inevitable and healthy that there is ongoing debate over how these ideals manifest themselves in practice, a factor, along with the global scope and rapid expansion of the movement, which helps to explain why there is such a wide variety of fair trade labeling initiatives.  This said, it is at least possible to discern a shared set of core ideals that, in principle at least, set fair trade apart from ‘free trade’

The democratic imperative in fair trade suggests that to be truly fair, food production and distribution would involve the creation of new food networks, smaller scale, and less oligopolistic than they are today, and the idea of fair shares suggests ethics comes before profits – challenging the very motive for engaging in production and exchange – (on both the part of producers and buyers… ). This potentially puts the practise of fair-trade into conflict with the present global neo-liberal free market system.  This idea is not lost on many in the fair-trade movement

Piercy, commenting on the early origins of the fair trade movement in the 1960s in the United Kingdom, makes the following, more concrete criticisms of ‘free market’ economics.[v]

  • The poorer countries becoming caught in a trap of producing raw materials that are subject to price fluctuations while wealthier countries ‘added’ value to these raw materials by producing them
  • The increasing subsidies wielded by MNCs – receiving subsidies from governments in the form of tax breaks or infrastructural development.
  • Quotas on imports to protect key industries.
  • Subsidies to farmers in developing countries, meaning the prices of their products are cheaper than those produced by farmers in the developing world.
  • MNCs using their buying power to force down prices paid to farmers in the developing world down, resulting in prices in supermarkets going down.
  • The agents of large companies often bribed officials to encourage them to ignore health and safety and labour laws, allowing the all too familiar and terrible sweatshop conditions

Similarly, even the briefest perusal of some of the informative material produced by the World Development Movement[vi] or even a more mainstream group such as Oxfam[vii], both founder members of Fair trade International, reveals many criticisms of the way that various and numerous multinationals, the World Trade organization and The European Union operate in ways that systematically put profits for shareholders over people and planet.

 

The fair trade standards – the institutional framework

Before examining the extent to which the ‘Supermarkets’ move into the fair trade market transgresses the spirit and practice of fair trade, it is necessary to outline in concrete terms what exactly the ideals mean in practice, to this we need to look at the institutional framework which informs fair trade standards.

Fair trade International is the international body with overall responsibility for developing the fair trade standards associated with the fair trade logo and brings together production, purchasing and consumption through devising and maintaining the standards which producers and buyers agree to in order to qualify for certification and be able to display the fair trade logo[1]. The standards are different for producers and buyers, and much more rigorous for producers.

Producers must be democratically organized, preferably into co-operatives or other democratic associations, the right of workers to join trades unions and enjoy decent working conditions will be guaranteed, and there will be no child labour. There will also be a commitment to reinvesting profits into the social development of the workers and wider community and any productive enterprise should be environmentally sustainable.

Buyers that purchase fair trade products guarantee to pay a ‘premium price’ that covers the cost of production – and is enough for investment in longer term social development. Buyers also have to commit to long term relationships with their producers.

 

The Fair Trade Standards

Fair trade International publishes several documents that outline the standards fair-trade producers and buyers need to maintain in order to qualify for fair-trade status and be able to display the fair-trade local. There are separate, yet overlapping standards, based on core principles for producers and buyers of fair-trade products

  • For producers  standards are outlined separately for small scale producers[2]; contract production[3] and for hired labour[4]
  • Standards for buyers are outlined in the ‘The Generic Fair trade trade standards’[5] document which outline the relationship between producers and buyers. In addition there are also additional, specific standards for producers producing certain products[6] and a prohibited materials list[7],

 

The seven ideals of fair trade – what they mean in practice

Below is an outline of what Ransom’s seven ideals of fair trade should look like in practice, if we take the standards outlined by Fair trade international as a base.

 

1. Democratic organization

It is believed that the best way of guaranteeing that trade adds to the social and economic development of producers and of their communities is to ensure as far as possible that producers are be small scale, preferably organized along co-operative lines so that they are democratically controlled by their members. All members should have a voice and vote in the decision-making process of the organization and there should be no discrimination on the basis of any “distinction of any kind such as, race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”

Probably less well known is that fair-trade producers should aim to establish more control over the productive processes related to their own production through, for example, establishing more direct communication and negotiation with buyers, adding value by establishing processing facilities and/ or by heading towards mutual ownership with other producer organizations

2. Recognized Trade unions– Where not co-operatively owned, as is the case in many large scale fair-trade producers, workers will have the right to join an independent union and to organize collectively to improve their bargaining power in relation to their employers. This obviously implies that workers will be contractually employed and that the company will have overt, written employment policies, clearly outlining the conditions of employment.

3. Decent working conditions – workers should receive at least a living wage, not be required to do forced overtime, have decent breaks and work within god health and safety parameters. The organization is also expected to will continue to develop its business-related operations and maximise the return to the members, which may involve reducing cost in operations, increasingly skilled management and staff, the building up of working capital, implementation of quality control, training/education and risk management. Working conditions should be equitable for all workers. Salaries must be equal or higher than the regional average or than the minimum wage in effect. Health and safety measures must be established in order to avoid work-related injuries. A crucial part of this ideal is that child labour does not occur. Fair Trade licensing requires that children below the age of 15 are not employed. According to the standards laid down by the fair trade foundation, child Labour is not altogether banned as children may help their parents after school and during holidays, but only on the conditions that working hours do not ‘jeapordise’ the child’s education, through preventing the child attending school for example, and that work is supervised by a parent and that the child’s wellbeing is not undermined in any way.

4. Environmental sustainability – Producer organizations are expected to assess the environmental impacts of its members’ operations, to develop plans designed to mitigate those impacts and to monitor the implementation of those plans – the standards outline a fairly lengthy list of expectations – such as protecting virgin forest, establishing buffer zones, not depleting local resources and improving members standard of living so they can live more sustainably. Given that by far the largest fair trade sector is in agriculture, it is no great surprise to find that the conservation of soil is a primary tenet of sustainable agricultural production. Finally, to get fair trade accredited, certain things are band such as Genetically Modified Organisms.

5. The minimum price guarantee – fair trade buyers agree to pay a minimum price for products even when the market price for that product falls below the minimum price. This is to provide a degree of security of income, guarding against increasingly volatile price fluctuations in the price of food. The minimum price varies by product. Companies trading Fair trade products must pay a price to producers that aims to cover the costs of sustainable production: the fair trade minimum price, and also pay an additional sum that producers can invest in development: the fair trade premium.

6. The social premium – The ‘minimum standards’ are fairly straightforward – the fair trade premium must be democratically spent in accordance with Fair trade Standards to improve the social wellbeing of the workers in the producer organization, their families, and the wider community. What the money gets spent on will depend on the perceived needs and wants of the particular community of producers. Examples of how the premium has been spent include everything from work relating training for employees, to buying text books for worker’s children, to improving local buildings and water supplies. Money has even been spent on developing a local football club in one South African community. See the section on ‘case studies’ for more details.

7.Long-Term relationships – Producers are expected to partially pay for products in advance when producers ask for it and to sign contracts that allow for long-term planning and sustainable production practices.

 

Fair Trade against Free trade

I don’t want to go into detail about the global ‘free trade’ food system – but this is the briefest comparisons of how the mainstream food business undermines the principles of fair trade.

Selected principles of the Fair Trade Movement Selected principles of the neo-liberal free market system
 

  • Democratic organization – ideally in the form of co-operative organization where workers own and control the company for which they work.
  • Recognized Trade unions –workers will have the right to organize collectively to improve their bargaining power in relation to their employers.
  • Decent working conditions – workers should receive at least a living wage, not be required to do forced overtime, have decent breaks and work within god health and safety parameters
  • Environmental sustainability – small scale production
  • The minimum price guarantee – fair trade buyers agree to pay a minimum price for products even when the market price for that product falls below the minimum price. This is to provide a degree of security of income, guarding against increasingly volatile price fluctuations in the price of food. The minimum price varies by product.
  • The social premium
  • Long-Term relationships
 

  • Top down management style – CEOs and directors run the company of behalf of distant shareholders – CEOs and directors control shares themselves – strategic decisions made by senior managers with little input from workers / Distancing of those  in the supply ‘Outsourcing’ production -lengthy and obscure supply chains / rule of the consumer rather than the producer
  • Increasing trend towards hiring of agency workers who have fewer rights. Some companies do not allow workers or actively discourage workers to join trades unions
  • Sweat shop labour, moving around ‘race to the bottom’
  • Industrialized mass production techniques, widespread pollution..
  • Using monopoly power to push prices paid for raw materials down/ gambling on food prices and increasing sustainability/ Subsidies to EU farmers – undermines principle of a ‘fair market price’ WTO, monopoly power…
  • WTO lead Neoliberalisation – undermining the welfare state – through encouraging privatization and deregulation
  • Failure to engage in enduring relationships

 

Sources 


[1] Certification is carried out by a separate body – see flo and NET for more details.

[2] http://www.fair trade.net/fileadmin/user_upload/content/2009/standards/documents/04 10_EN_Generic_Fair trade_Standards_SPO_Aug_09_EN_amended_version_04-10.pdf

[4] http://www.fair trade.net/fileadmin/user_upload/content/2009/standards/documents/04 10_EN_Generic_Fair trade_Standard_HL_Aug_2009_EN_amended_version_04-10.pdf

[6] http://www.fair trade.net/product-standards.0.html

[7] http://www.fair trade.net/fileadmin/user_upload/content/FLO_Prohibited_Materials_List_Dec_2007_EN.pdf



[i] http://fair tradecertified.org/get-involved/blog/producer-voices-kuapa-kokoo-ghana

[ii] http://journeyforfair trade.blogspot.com/2011/03/listening-to-voices-indonesia.html

[iii] Ransom, David (2007) The No-Nonsense Guide to Fair Trade, New Internationalist

[iv] Fair Trade International – http://www.fair trade.org.uk/what_is_fair trade/faqs.aspx

[v] Piercy (2009) Jeremy: Coffins, Cats and Fair Trade Sex Toys, Quick Brown Fox Publications

[vi] http://www.wdm.org.uk/blog/fair-trade-not-just-fair trade

[vii] http://www.oxfam.org.uk/resources/issues/trade/introduction.html

 

Happiness is just around the corner and other ‘anti-Capitalist’ cartoons

– Double header of Marxism* coming up in Sociology next week – The Marxist perspective on crime in A2 and intro to Marxism in AS – and here’s some nice cartoons that illustrate the broad marxist critique of Capitalism –

Firstly, an animated cartoon – the rat race –

And the non-animated version

And secondly – from our concerned friends organising this year’s buy nothing day – on November 26th this year!

And putting things in global perspective –

 

And this should bring a certain Marxist concept to mind – for ‘business man’ read the ‘Bourgeois’ or the ‘Capitalist Class’

*Or at least what the AQA call Marxism – which basically involves teaching it in a very generalised way – in fact anything that is critical of Capitalism and Elites can count as ‘Marxism’ in this context – which means anything from Marxism all the way through to Anarchism comes under the heading. Loose I know – but then again it is just the start…

Related Posts

My Book – Why Western Notions of Happiness are Unsatisfactory and How Buddhism Can Lead to a Deeper Sense of Happiness

Mainly for my own reference – some postcards

It’s business as usual at the Bankers’ annual party

Check out this wonderful piece of research – I guess it’s overt non-participant observation and semi-structured interviews – where members of the Robin-Hood Tax crew sneak into a city-bankers’ party to see what’s going on –

 

Apparantly the mood is somewhat more subdued than in previous years but the filmakers still conclude that despite the fact that bankers have received billions of tax payers money the following is still the case –

1. Bankers are still making a lot of money

2. The same people as caused the last financial crisis are still at the helm of the banking industry – and it’s business as usual

3. The government apparantly has no power to control the financial sector whatsoever!

 

The Robin Hood Tax is a proposed 0.05 tax on all financial transactions – that would reportedly raise over £100 billion a year to help pay for – well – whatever Nation States wanted – education, povery relief, combatting climate change…. It’s explained in the video below

 

I mean it’s hardly smashing Capitalism – but it is something you can support if you want to make the world ever so slightly less unequal!