READER’S EDITORIAL: COUNCIL CHOOSES NOT TO ENDORSE PREFERENTIAL SALE OF SOME COMMERCIAL PRODUCTS OVER OTHERS

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By Kristin Kjaero

 

October 13, 2011 (La Mesa) -- Re: "Reader’s Editorial: The Shame of La Mesa -- Council Votes Against Fair Trade, Bows to Corporate Interests Over Helping People," in which Meg Jensen expressed her disappointment at their decision to decline a proposal by the Fair Trade Towns USA ("FTT").

 

Among other "Requirements for Fair Trade Town Status" in FTT’s Oct. 3rd letter as well as on their website, they wanted the City to pass “a resolution supporting Fair Trade and the local campaign and commits to serving Fair Trade products at its meeting."

 

At Tuesday’s Council meeting, FTT advocates repeatedly emphasized the Council would not have to do anything other than pass the ordinance, as if that was a positive thing. 

 

FTT’s "Steering Committee,” made up of unspecified individuals in an unspecified location (they’re part of an international organization), would decide what products get the Council’s seal of approval based on standards having something to do with living wages, though what the specific criteria for this are they couldn't answer and aren’t published on either website, except that for a manufacturer to get a product “licensed” as Fair Trade by them it “must buy from certified farms and organizations,” for which the criteria isn’t made available either.

 

Don't worry, they assured, the Council needn’t bother with the details, FTT will take care of them, including a “Where to Buy List and Map.”

 

Huh? 

 

Government is required by law to be transparent; Sunshine laws were created exactly because information is necessary to hold elected representatives accountable in a democracy. But FTT is asking elected representatives to abrogate their responsibility of transparency to, um.... Who exactly? For what? There appeared to be uncertainty, even among the FTT.

 

What is clear is FTT seeks government endorsements worldwide to encourage people to buy certain products over others, and despite speakers on Tuesday repeatedly stating it’s “not political,” their website writes about “endorsing an economic system.”

 

What’s at play here is one of our most fundamental concepts of government as Americans. 

 

As the symbol blind justice serves to reminds us, the Founding Fathers expressed a fundamental belief that "all men are created equal" with no one above the law -- and preferential arrangements were the powder keg that started it all. 

 

Ms. Jensen equates the City’s existing contracts for service with “actively promoting” and giving preferential treatment, but her examples don’t hold up under examination. Even if they had, however, institutional failures are a reason to make corrections, not more mistakes.

 

Personally I try to buy local products from locally owned shops when possible because I believe it’s more environmentally responsible, and I look for American made goods now more than ever when friends and neighbors are struggling to keep jobs and homes.

 

And that is precisely the point. If abstract principles like freedom and diversity are to be genuinely lived, we must be broad minded enough to embrace differences in opinion and priority. This is even more critical in our governmental institutions.

 

Too often today, we witness polarized claims to an exclusive moral high ground of human dignity, while slinging accusations at those who reach a different conclusion. I hope for a future for our children where the pendulum swings back towards the middle ground of common interests.

 

Meanwhile there’s no reason FTT can’t work now to market directly to consumers/vendors on its own and, as they already stated, there are enough vendors in La Mesa selling “Fair Trade” products for a designation of "Fair Trade City." The choice is theirs to make.

 

And that, I believe, is the beauty and strength of America. Long may it so remain.

 

 

The views in this editorial reflect views of its author and do not necessarily reflect views of East County Magazine. To submit an editorial for consideration, contact editor@eastcountymagazine.org.

 

Comments

FTT's inept representatives

From an examination of their website, FTT looks remarkably like an international marketing organization -- a kind of 'Altria with a conscience' -- which sells its products to affluent Americans with the clever message that such purchases will expiate their guilt for being born fortunate.

However, FTT has some inept sales reps. In La Mesa Patch, David Schmidt postulates a slave-owning ancestor for Scott Kidwell, accuses three members of our city council of voting for exploitation-based trade, and sneers that "La Mesa businesses and consumers are still entirely free to sell and buy whatever products they wish, however much exploitation, child slavery, sweat, blood and violence may have gone into the production of these products." http://lamesa.patch.com/blog_posts/scott-kidwell-letter-against-fair-tra...
http://lamesa.patch.com/blog_posts/three-members-of-city-council-vote-ag...

In East County Magazine, Meg Jensen calls the three council members anti pro-life, mindless, heartless, lacking in compassion for unborn babies, cowardly, and sold out to corporate interests. She slings insinuations at the La Mesa Chamber of Commerce for neglecting to support the resolution. http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/7530

With such loose canons representing the FTT organization, Ernest Ewin's concern that La Mesa might see a repeat of last year's picketing and marches by Sydney Cicourel's crew, directed by FTT fanatics against La Mesa Village merchants, was justified. A resolution with sticky strings attached to these people could be embarrassing to the City of La Mesa.

Inconsistent requirements undermine credibility.

So Miriam, you're saying that they have the authority to alter one conditions but not another? Does that make any sense to you? Because it sure sounds dubious to me.

And if it's boilerplate language "that can be altered to suit the needs of specific communities," this brings up a much more serious problem.

Placing cities on a list together implies that they've met the same criteria. Just like a lack of information about a "Steering Committee" and criteria used, such a practice makes the list meaningless (at best, deceptive at worst) to a consumer trying to evaluate what exactly the "Fair Trade" designation means. Such a lack of consistency completely undermines an organization's credibility.

Miriam, the first statement

Miriam, the first statement which you dispute is not only verifyable by pulling up the City Council agenda, but is part of the downloadable toolkit on the FTT's website. Are you telling me that that the people in La Mesa are acting as rogue independents while portraying themselves falsely as the FTT USA? Because if they unilaterally altered the organization's document, that is what they would be doing i.e. either they accountable for what was written on the letterhead and the website, or they are misrepresenting themselves. You can't have it both ways.

Regarding whether "there are already enough La Mesa merchants already carrying Fair Trade products for a Fair Trade designation," that was not a statement of my opinion. That was what FTT's own advocates stated more than once at the City Council Meeting, watch the recording. It was also stated by their representative at a public meeting of the Environmental Sustainability Commission meeting as well.

Who the FTT's "licenses" under their name is something that only the FTT has the power to decide. It only requires a Council resolution because the FTT says they want one. They could just as well decide they don't. If they want to forward their cause, it is in their power to remove that barrier.

Ernie asked about the language

and had staff read back the amended version to confirm that indeed that language requiring the city to serve products (or expend any money) had been removed. 

 

The FTT's toolkit document was intended as "boilerplate" language that local groups could use as starting points, and that can be altered to suit the needs of specific communities.  

 

On the number of merchants, what the people at the meeting were saying was they had met one of the FTT national requirements for Fair Trade Towns USA, which was to have at least 12 merchants for a city the size of LM. But they can't get the national designation unless the City Council also approves a resolution (or unless FTT at the national level changes its rules. That is not something the local group can waive.)

 

 

The resolution was amended, Kristin.

An earlier version asked the city to serve at least some Fair Trade products at civic events, however that language was removed in the amended version before Council.

 

You are also incorrect in stating that with there are already enough La Mesa merchants already carrying Fair Trade products for a Fair Trade designation.  The national Fair Trade organization won't issue the designation without a local governing body's resolution.