Between 2006 and 2008, the world witnessed an unprecedented rise in global food prices. According to the FAO’s food price index, the average cost of the world’s most vital foodstuffs rose by 71% and the price of rice and grain – the staple foods of most of the inhabitants of the global south – rose by 126%. The price of Hard Red Wheat, which had up until 2006 fluctuated between $3 and $6 per sixty-pound bushel, rose to $25 per bushel in 2008 – nearly ten times its historic price. As a result, 250 million previously food-secure people were pushed into food insecurity, and 115 million people fell into extreme poverty. At the end of 2008, the prices started to fall, but have recently once again begun to rise.
Fair Trade is a movement that has been gathering momentum over the years: from its humble beginnings as Oxfam’s ‘helping-by-selling’ program in the ’60s to today, it has grown into a multi-billion-euro enterprise affecting the lives of millions of people. Fair Trade is acquiring a definitive niche in the public consciousness; even large brands with questionable human rights records are joining the movement: notable examples being Nestlé, which has been allowed to label all its Kitkats in the United Kingdom as Fair Trade, and Starbucks, which has committed itself to using only Fair Trade Certified coffee in its espresso-based drinks in the UK.
However, there are differences in opinion within the Fair Trade movement as to whether these new territorial conquests by the Fair Trade movement are indeed a good thing. What does it mean for Fair Trade to negotiate with these enormous companies, which have mostly arrived at their current position by ruthlessly pursuing profit, often at the expense of their producers? Such an attitude runs, to say the least, a bit against the grain of the Fair Trade movement. But does Fair Trade have to get involved with these companies in order to grow? As Daniel Jaffee puts it somewhat dramatically in his book Brewing Justice, does the Fair Trade movement have to ‘dance with the devil’? And if it does dance, can it do so without selling out?