November 2010

Kuapa Kokoo, the co-operative representing almost 50,000 small-scale cocoa farmers in more than 1,200 villages across Ghana, recently commissioned a striking bronze statue of a male and female cocoa farmer.

The statue stands on a road island in the centre of Kumasi, the second largest city in Ghana, and is a celebration of cocoa farming and its important role in Ghanaian economy and society.

Bronze cocoa farmer monument in Kumasi

Kuapa Kokoo’s managing director, Kwasi Aduse-Poku, made a speech at the inauguration of the monument to “honour our gallant and dedicated farmers whose efforts contributed in no small way to the building of our nation”.

Yesterday's report and press release from the free market think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), is not the first time they have made anti-Fairtrade noises.

Over several years they have criticised Fairtrade on the basis of its claims and seem to view the large proportion of the population who 'get' Fairtrade as deluded.

Yet, they still fail to understand quite what Fairtrade is. It seems that the IEA views Fairtrade as a type of charity, giving a little bit more money here and there to poor people, while the giver needs to be assured at every step that the money is spent wisely.

For anyone who has met Fairtrade producers, we know it is about so much more than just the money. It's about transforming the trading relationship between consumers and producers.

One of the latest criticisms levelled at Fairtrade by the IEA is that "Fairtrade products can squeeze out from the market other socially labelled products". Surely a bizarre statement from a free market think tank! If Fairtrade products are proving more popular with consumers in our 'free' market in the UK then surely this is what is supposed to happen. No-one is forcing people to buy Fairtrade.

Unfortunately the IEA remain short of solutions for poverty in developing countries. While repeating the manta that free trade is the answer, not Fairtrade (aka charity in their eyes), they fail to acknowledge that the market is anything but free when poorer countries try to trade with us.

When the IEA starts a more vocal campaign to lift trade barriers which harm the poorest, I'll start to take them more seriously.

Andrew Mitchell, the international development secretary, is in the news over revelations that he intervened on behalf of the multimillionaire cocoa dealer known as 'Choc Finger', after receiving funding from him while in opposition.

'Choc Finger' is the nickname of Anthony Ward, whose hedge fund Armajaro Holdings donated £40,000 to Mitchell's parliamentary office between 2006 and 2009. The firm donated £50,000 separately to the Conservative party in 2004.

Armajaro Holdings had been banned from trading in western Ghana, over allegations of smuggling. Cocoa is often smuggled over the western border of Ghana to take advantage of better prices in the Ivory Coast, which results in lost tax revenue for the Ghanaian government.