Community service

<strong>Fighting the Banana Wars and Other Fairtrade Battles</strong>

Harriet Lamb <em>Rider Book

Since Fairtrade’s humble beginnings 20 years ago, demand for its products has rocketed. It is estimated that nearly half a billion pounds was spent on such goods in the UK last year. Harriet Lamb, executive director of the Fairtrade Foundation, relates the movement’s history.

Although her prose can be a touch bland, Lamb tells a stirring story of a burgeoning “global family”, tenaciously pushing big business to trade more fairly with some of the world’s poorest farmers. Take the battle to supply Fairtrade bananas to Europe. In Ecuador, Lamb hears how banding together allowed small producers to bypass the multinationals. In the Windward Islands, she meets farmers who have improved their communities with the premium paid by Fairtrade.

This book is a rejoinder to the free-marketeers, such as the Adam Smith Institute, who argue that fair trade sustains uncompetitive farmers and keeps the poor in their place. Lamb insists that fair trade enables small farmers to thrive on their land as they wish to and take part in the global economy. As one banana worker in Costa Rica tells her: “I was someone that took a box and loaded it on to a train. [Now] I have become an international businessman.”

This article first appeared in the 17 March 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Iraq: the war that changed us