No Sugar Tonight (In My Coffee)

Theology Thought Thursday

This is Part II of the previous TTT. I’d like to get back to the ethical dilemma surrounding fair trade, and the article in the Guardian that I mentioned before. Hopefully you can read the full article as well, but here are a few points I gleaned that I wanted to hash out a bit here:

1. Today’s imbalanced system of global trade grew directly out of colonialism.

The author highlights the transition between past centuries of colonialism, when “trade propelled the colonial project, and exploitation was its very purpose”, to the ongoing inequalities of more recent times. And farmers are still struggling to make a living, although the colonial empires have been replaced by enormously powerful agribusiness corporations.

2. The concept of fair trade developed as consumers became more aware of and concerned about the well-being of the people who laboured at the other end of the commodity chains they benefited from.

“The crown jewel of this movement was Fairtrade International, an umbrella body formed in 1997 out of various national chapters that had sprouted over the previous decade. Fairtrade was founded on the conviction that consumers could make the marketplace more moral.”

3. Consumers and companies have questioned whether Fairtrade and other independent labels like it are actually making any positive difference. The results of some studies into this matter have been discouraging.
4. Fairtrade may be at risk of fading into obscurity due to a recent trend of multinational companies opting to create their own in-house labels and sustainability certifications.

“Fairtrade is half-owned by its producer cooperatives, so its standards and metrics are decided in large part by the representatives of farmers. The standards of [in-house sustainability certifications] aren’t like that; they are written by the companies themselves, in the companies’ own best interests. No independent third party certifies their success or failure in meeting these standards and publishes those results.”

(All quotes taken from The Guardian article “Is fair trade finished?” by Samanth Subramanian.)

Time for Some Real Talk… with Myself

Great understatement of the day: this is a complex issue. Complexity has stifled many a positive change. It has also resulted in many good intentions with bad results. The trouble is knowing whether buying fair trade is a good intention with bad results, or a genuinely good action with positive results.

Some graffiti behind a nearby restaurant. Photo taken by my husband.

Here’s the thing. Neither sugar nor chocolate are essentials. They aren’t even good for you (OK, yes, I suppose dark chocolate has it’s benefits). The only reason I eat them is for pleasure, aside from when I’m with other people and everyone else is eating (like cake at a birthday party). Isn’t it entirely selfish to eat sugar just for pleasure when there is evidence that the sugar industry, as a whole, is exploitative – and maybe even fair trade isn’t good enough? Perhaps this is a personal question, but I think, for me at least, the answer is yes, for both sugar and chocolate.

I don’t think the answer necessarily has to be the same for everyone. Not everyone can take a hard stance on every issue for a variety of reasons. And it would be overwhelming to try to do everything at once, even if it was possible. This is something I feel convicted about, but I don’t judge anyone who does not feel convicted in the same way.

So, what does all this mean for my goal to “eat sugar in mindful moderation and buy only fair trade”? I’m- I’m… I’m going to have to think about this more. I’m struggling here. Part of me wants to take the leap and cut out cane sugar and cocoa products all together. The other part of me keeps whispering about s’mores and brownies and bubble tea. Why is it so hard to give up?

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