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.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.