Blog post

Can Trade Express Intrinsic Values? 
A view from Brussels

How can the fair trade movement better influence policy-makers by using intrinsic-orientated frames? That was one of the questions asked at the Common Cause Brussels lunch on 20 June, hosted by the Fair Trade Advocacy Office (FTAO).

Sergi Corbalán, executive director of the FTAO, explained how he distinguishes his organisation’s work between

  1. Trade justice – the use of “hard” policy tools like trade agreements to ensure EU trade contributes to more social justice; and
  2. Fair trade – using softer  policy tools (such as campaigns, funding and public procurement) to encourage consumers and public bodies to buy fair trade products

Sergi pointed out how he saw a tension between values that the fair trade movement wants to appeal to (e.g. social justice) and those often used in marketing or referred to by fair trade consumers (e.g. charity – “I don’t like the coffee but I still buy it to be nice to poor people”).

We talked about how there might be some schizophrenia between an appeal to intrinsic values for trade justice, whilst “fair trade” is driven more by other values. Natalia Leal from the World Fair Trade Organization-Europe pointed out that because buying fair trade products involves consumption, this may also create some tension with some intrinsic values. Communications consultant Wiebke Herding called “fair trade” an accident of language – because “fair” and “trade” fundamentally refer to such opposite frames – but it is an accident we may have to live with.

We then turned to specific messaging to EU policy-makers. Eivind Hoff from Bellona thought policy demands ought to be more ambitious and specific about what fair trade seeks to achieve or address. This should not be centred on fair trade products themselves – lest fair trade advocates could be seen as promoting commercial interests. These specifics could instead be about “decency” issues, such as child labour or gender equality. In other words, “fair trade” should not be seen as an end in itself but rather one of several means to achieve justice in trade relations.

This is something that FTAO is already doing, Sergi explained, for instance by being active in relation to Women’s Day or hosting an event on child labour in the European Parliament.

We ended the discussion with some brainstorming on useful metaphors for fair trade – more ideas are welcome!

Casper ter Kuile

About Casper ter Kuile

Casper is a campaign strategist and consultant, and the co-founder of the UK Youth Climate Coalition. He has worked with Avaaz, Oxfam, and Futerra Sustainability Communications and joins the Common Cause team after touring through Europe his with vocal ensemble 'Northern Harmony'. He graduated from the University of Warwick with a degree in History and Sociology and was named a Global Shaper by the World Economic Forum in 2011.
  • http://www.facebook.com/markdavidchenery Mark Chenery

    Sounds like a nice practical discussion around values and frames. Can I ask what metaphors for fair trade you came up with?

  • http://www.neweconomics.org Juliet Michaelson

    Interesting discussion about the frames refered to by ‘trade’. I’m not so sure ‘trade’ does necessary refer to consumption frames or frames fundamentally opposite to ‘fair’. There are some connotations of trade around useful exchange of goods / services / skills, and the direct supply of good by producers to users – as in the original meaning of ‘market’. You could argue that adding ‘fair’ to ‘trade’ reinforces these sorts of frames. And in fact that it is useful to be able to refer to fundamentally important activities like trade in terms which recall values of fairness and mutual benefit, rather than individual gain.