And another thing… (12 October 2016)

The Belvedere Public Consultation

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Fairtrade: All Bluebird Tea are doing is engaging in some good old-fashioned free trade
In recent years, ‘free trade’ appears to have become some sort of pejorative term, implying exploitation, corporate greed and the subjugation of developing nations. Now people only seem interested in ‘fairtrade’, which most buy simply to feel good about themselves.

So I was heartened when I read [October 5] about the Blue Bird Tea business [Tunbridge Wells], which has chosen to shun the fad. Instead, they are truly engaging in good old-fashioned free trade by going directly to the supplier, allowing them to cut out the middle man and therefore offer a better price than they otherwise would have got.

Free trade is a system which has alleviated hundreds of millions from poverty during the last 200 years, while Fairtrade is predominantly a con to trick the gullible rich.

In 2014 a book titled The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich, by the Senegalese (no less) author Ndongo Samba Sylla, revealed for each dollar paid by an American consumer for a Fairtrade product, only three cents more are transferred to the country it came from than for the unlabelled alternative.
In addition, countries ranked by the World Bank as ‘upper middle income’ account for 54 per cent of producer organisations having received FT certification against 21 per cent in the case of low-income countries.

Fairtrade is not fair, it is just a way to make middle-class champagne socialists feel good about themselves. Well done Blue Bird Tea for going against the grain.

Anthony Wright
Via email

At least you do know what’s happening with agreed standard
Thank you for featuring the important question of Fairtrade in our town [October 5].

If Tunbridge Wells prides itself as being a Fairtrade town, we should indeed take issues of just and respectful trading seriously.

So, if I understand Krisi Smith correctly, the reason Bluebird Tea Company have ‘opted out’ of complying with the agreed standard of just and fair trading with tea suppliers is because the premium consumers may be paying for the Fairtrade standard ‘may not end up in the hands of the work force’? Why wouldn’t that be for Bluebird to decide?

Instead, Bluebird’s customers have to accept Bluebird’s assurances that working conditions are ‘high’, that the pay is ‘above the body’s minimum price’ (hardly impressive), and that the price accurately reflects all this (not to mention the cost of the monitoring process).

She concludes; ‘With Fairtrade, do you actually know?’

Well yes, this is precisely the point; we actually do. Whereas when I look at a business which makes sufficient profit margins to afford a prime location in Tunbridge Wells in a competitive commodity like tea, I’m afraid I have my doubts.

Nigel Griffiths
Via email

Not perfect but it is crucial
I read with interest [October 5] the two sides of the argument over Fairtrade.

While I can sympathise with the concerns that Fairtrade, as an organisation, might not be perfect, I do not consider that to outweigh the good it has achieved.

Fairtrade has raised the minimum price that growers have to get for their labour and produce.

This is an unbelievably crucial step forward for ethical trading. It’s the equivalent to the introduction of minimum wage laws in the UK – it’s hard to imagine not having them now, and that’s what we’ve got to try to cement with Fairtrade.

As the town’s Fairtrade’s spokesperson highlighted in their response, only seven per cent of the tea that is consumed in this country is Fairtrade. We still have such a long way to go to just bring up our standards to the minimum in terms of defendable ethics.

I respect the good intentions of Bluebird Tea but, while Fairtrade is not perfect, it is a realistic and achievable start.

Sandra Hollins
Via email

Immigrants: All descended from them
How ironic that Tunbridge Wells, one of the few south-eastern bastions to vote against Brexit, should be one of only two places in Kent to see a fall in the number of immigrants seeking work [October 5].

It is depressing that the focus of political thought in this country should be on immigration rather than the real underlying causes of the ever-widening gulf between the rich and the poor.

So it was good to hear one of the town’s publicans, The Mount Edgcumbe’s Robert Hogben, saying that the catering industry depends on overseas labour to ‘make up our staff’.

No doubt the many arable farmers in the Garden of England would concur that our neighbours across the EU are crucial for ensuring we grow enough fruit and veg to keep the nation healthy.

And if our population does fall prey to a malaise, then it’s also good to know that we have so many foreigners manning lowly positions in the NHS to lend a hand in our hour of need.

Quite why so many people in Britain feel it is beneath them to perform the less glamorous jobs is strange enough. That they should then bemoan the fact that someone else is more than willing to fill the role is beneath contempt.

We should never forget that we are an island, and therefore all descended from immigrants. In Anglo-Saxon times, the flooded-out Fresians happily intermarried with the local population. They improved our society.

Perhaps that’s the way to make Britain great again.

Nigel Wallace
Via email

Hotel: ‘Too corporate’ claim just wrong
‘Too corporate’ my newspaper [not the Times] rather snootily dismissed the newly opened One Warwick Park in its review.

Our favourite hotel, The Midland – an Art Deco gem in Morecambe – is far way and it’s the wrong time of the year. So with a significant anniversary impending (don’t ask) we decided to give OWP a go.

‘Too corporate’ suggests that the reviewer was expecting something homely – perhaps cast-off muddy boots on a stained, threadbare carpet? No, there was none of that. The smell of wet dogs and last night’s supper? None of that, either. Afternoon tea in the kitchen with mismatched china in front of a smelly, 50-year-old Aga? Definitely not that.

What we found was an elegant, sleek, modern, well-equipped and well-run hotel shoehorned into an old and difficult space – and exploring it was an adventure in itself.

It’s rather tiresome when reviewers, for want of something better to write, come up with something which they believe is clever.

‘Corporate’ she said – ‘swish’ sounds right to us.

Sandra & Edward Baker
Tunbridge Wells

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