Fair Trade Commerce and Social Policy


By Lucía Muñoz

When discussing fair trade commerce, inequality must also be considered.  According to The Center for Distributive Labor and Social Studies, Latin America is the region on the planet with the second  highest degree of inequality.  Given this fact, it is important to allow into the discussion variables which explain these high levels of disparity and poverty.  With that in mind, this proposal will discuss income to accomplish that.

The debate about individual income and that of families is not new to our region; it has been at the heart of discussions of the World Bank since 1998. Since 2015 Caetano and de Armas, professors from the Latin American Commission of Social Sciences revitalized the debate in light of a major gap between supply and demand which is growing in a globalized world and income of the majority of people in Latin America.

It does not have anything to do with the Latin Americans’ production, but rather how income continues to be distributed unequally.  It’s worth asking, then, what position does this topic have in contemporary Latin American society, a society controlled by a neo-liberal system?  During a recent conference Laura Tavares, professor at the Latin American Institute of Social Sciences—Brazil shared that when talking about incomes in Latin America it is imperative to include a debate about social policies in order to broaden the discussion.

This assertion opens the door to significant, reasonable doubts and issues which can become part of the context of the discussion, for example, ways of doing business.  This is where the concept of fair trade business fits in, that which is understood to be a mechanism capable of offering better conditions to local producers based on equity and justice:  guaranteeing fair practices and pricing, eradicating exploitation among other advantages.  Nevertheless, fair trade commerce is not totally responsible for basic human rights.  What do I mean by this?  That hard work guaranteeing commerce which truly dignifies the individual presents a very simple historic challenge:  the market, which has been perversely configured in terms of supply and demand in order to procure high profits without taking into consideration human rights.

Fair Trade provides a better way of life to new generations. Photo: ACD Guatemala

In that sense, parallel to and rooted in the historical goal lies the struggle for fair business conditions; universal social policy must be part of a struggle which pays urgent and focused attention to the many dimensions of Guatemalan poverty.  Tavares argues that, “social exclusion/discrimination must not be measured only by people’s monetary income; it is necessary to incorporate other elements such as their access to social safety nets, public social services and public wealth; social inclusion implies a coming together of actions greater than that which only guarantees income from a market”.  In light of this thesis, exchange of goods based in principles of ethical regulation must be valued and encouraged, but this will be insufficient if the struggles do not provide evidence of the absence of social conditions for which the State is the responsible party.

It is irrefutable that fair trade commerce has rescued the country from harmful practices and has benefitted thousands of artisans, coffee cooperatives, family farms, women’s organizations and associations, along with not-for-profit organizations and international aid organizations which provide trainings and support for business capabilities.  With the support of the professors cited, my proposal is simple:  the fight for better distribution of wealth is forever in progress; nevertheless, continuing in the same manner without the commitment of a public agenda (public services such as healthcare, education, suitable and dignified employment, a secure environment, recreational opportunities, housing, conflict resolution, just to mention a few) is akin to leaving the responsibility for holistic development to the market—something it will never achieve on its own. It is exactly for this reason, then, that we must insist on an integrated approach.

Lucia Muñoz Argueta, lover of the struggle, Internationalist and Social Anthropologist, Investigator, Professor and Founder of ACD Guatemala (Association for Creativity and Development in Guatemala)

Organized women’s group. Cover Photo: ACD Guatemala