Talkin’ Trade With Scott Codey of the NYC Fair Trade Coalition

Trade Talk:  Conversations with Leaders in the Fair Trade Movement

As part of Fair Trade Local’s “Trade Talk” series, GGP invites
leaders in the fair trade movement to answer questions about global
trade, grassroots activism, poverty, women’s rights and their favorite
fair trade products.

For our first installment, we’re pleased to be speaking with Scott Codey of the New York City Fair
Trade Coalition.  Scott is a committed, accomplished activist with years of experience, and we’re honored to have him here on Fair Trade Local.

Picture 3

Thanks for joining us on Fair Trade Local, Scott.

Q:  There are a lot of economic development models out there, and a
lot of debate over which works best.  Why have you decided to devote
your time to Fair Trade?  What makes it a good solution to ending
poverty?

I think Fair Trade is attractive to a lot of people because it’s a
simple and easy way to make a significant difference in the lives of
people at the other end of the supply chain.  Most people I come
across are not indifferent to the exploitation of workers around the
world – they simply don’t know what is happening.  I can’t tell you
how many times I’ve been approached by people at the end of the
wonderful film “Black Gold” which lays out the grim reality of the
coffee industry who say, “I had no idea any of this was happening.”
When people learn about learn what is going on, they want to do
something about it.

At its best, I think Fair Trade is “gateway activism” – a first-step
way for people to engage with these issues in a way that makes a
difference but does not require going to meetings, learning a whole
set of acronyms or having to endure long bus trips to Capitol Hill.
But trade activism cannot stop with buying products.  I think we have
to remember that Fair Trade is not a panacea for poverty.  It is
something that we can and should do while we work for profound changes
to the current rules of international trade.

Q:  Many critics claim that Fair Trade is a form of “charity,” a
“band-aid” instead of a sustainable solution.  How do you respond to
such critiques?

I don’t think Fair Trade is any more a form of charity than minimum
wage laws.  We have those laws in place because we believe that people
should be paid a minimum for their labor, irrespective of market
forces.  I think of Fair Trade more as a form of civil disobedience –
as a way of refusing to consent to, if only for a moment, participate
in a global trading system that causes such severe poverty and
exploitation around the world.

Q:  For a lot of people, the term “global trade” conjures abstract,
elusive, perhaps even negative thoughts.  WTO.  Closed doors.  Men in
suits.  How can regular people advocate for fairer trading practices
without being a policy expert or political bigwig?

If people think of the WTO and men in suits behind closed doors when
they think of global trade, they are not far off the mark.  To this
point, the rules of international trade have largely been written by
and for large corporations where short term corporate profits are the
most important thing and everything else – public health and safety,
workers rights, women’s rights, the environment and the health of
local economies are secondary.

I think what is so exciting about the Fair Trade movement is that over
the last 20 years, regular people – not policy experts or political
bigwigs – have gotten organized not only to raise their voice in
protest of the current system (which is important) but to build
positive alternatives that model the kind of economy we want to see.

Q:  What impact do you think the new Obama Administration will have on
fair trade, global poverty and women’s rights?  Should we expect to
see some important gains, or more of the same?

I think it’s a bit too early to tell.  I expect we will see some
important gains in some areas but it is by no means guaranteed that at
the end of the Obama administration, we’re going to have a global
trading system that is better than the one we have today.  If you look
at who Obama has chosen as his trade advisors, it seems reasonable to
expect that they will try to advance a vision of global trade that is
not that different from the one advanced by the Clinton
administration.  However, political leaders are generally only as good
or as bad as the political pressure they feel like they have to
respond to.  Our challenge is the coming years will be to expand
consumer awareness of Fair Trade while at the same time continuing to
build a political movement that is strong enough to enact a set of
policies that make Fair Trade a baseline principle for doing business
in the global economy.  One promising piece of legislation is the 2009
TRADE Act which folks can find more information about here:
http://action.citizen.org/t/1153/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=27339

Q: Thank you for your informative responses.  For our final question,
we’d like to end on a lighter note: what’s your favorite fair trade
product?  Coffee? A fair trade bag?  Or perhaps those delicious fair
trade bananas?

Well, I had a lovely Fair Trade bag until a few years ago when I left
it in a cab in Chicago.  All my friends told me it made me look like a
goat herder which made me like it even more!

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