April 1, 2012

Review - Unfair Trade (Conor Woodman)

Why the world's poor continue to lose out in the global market -- and what can be done about it.
How is it that our favorite brands can import billions of pounds' worth of goods from the developing world every year, and yet leave the people who produce them barely scraping a living? Is it that big business is incompatible with the eradication of poverty? And, if so, are charity and fair trade initiatives the only way forward?
In Unfair Trade Conor Woodman traces a range of products back to their source to uncover who precisely is benefiting and who is losing out. He goes diving with lobster fishermen in Nicaragua who are dying in their hundreds to keep the restaurant tables of the US well stocked. He ventures into war-torn Congo to find out what the developed world's insatiable demand for tin means for local miners. And he risks falling foul of the authorities in Laos as he covertly visits the country's burgeoning rubber plantations, established to supply Chinese factories that in turn supply the West with consumer goods. In the process, he tests accepted economic wisdom on the best way to create a fairer world -- and suggests a simpler but potentially far more radical solution.

Review
If you've ever picked up an ethically labeled product at your local supermarket you probably did so for two reasons - you like the taste of the product and you feel reassured that local laborers are provided with a fair pay and acceptable working conditions. The important question would be - is this really so?
In Unfair Trade economist Conor Woodman presents a snapshot of what life is like for some of the world's poorest people trying to make a living by supplying our needs. From Nicaragua and Congo, to China and Tanzania, from coffee and tea to cotton and rubber, the author presents a collection of truly eyeopening case studies, letting the voices of those be heard who are supposedly treated "fair". Yet the emphasis is not just on the working conditions, but also on the double standards and moral compromise culminating in the shocking contrast of ethical labeling as marketing tool vs how things really are at the other end of that label. As much as those certifications don't always equal fairness, no such labels don't necessarily translate into unfairness, sometimes quite the contrary.
Written in a conversational tone, this is a comprehensible study that presents a brief yet revealing introduction to the topic. While the book isn't intended to be an exhaustive look at big businesses and their marketing tools, the ethical labeling of products itself would have deserved more exploration in my opinion.
In short: An insightful glimpse on just how fair "fair" trade really is!

3/5 stars

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Random House. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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