Fair trade is even more ur­gent now

CityPress - - Business - Terry Bell busi­ness@city­press.co.za

In the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic tur­moil, protest­ing trade unions, as well as com­mu­nity, po­lit­i­cal and reli­gious groups, have all tended to fo­cus on one man: Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma.

At the same time, most seem to ac­knowl­edge that Zuma is only the symp­tom of a much deeper malaise.

Per­haps be­cause of the me­dia fo­cus, the main un­der­ly­ing con­cern seems to be the econ­omy and what “junk” sta­tus may mean for South Africa.

But, as many in the labour move­ment are con­cerned, most cit­i­zens have been op­er­at­ing with that sta­tus for years.

“We are treated as junk,” is a common com­ment.

In the im­me­di­ate term, of course, the “big­ger pic­ture” de­ci­sion by the rat­ings agen­cies — which have po­lit­i­cal agen­das to pre­serve to strengthen the ex­ist­ing sys­tem — will not have a di­rect ef­fect on most cit­i­zens.

How­ever, as interest rates rise and gov­ern­ment rev­enues are squeezed, the pain will be felt and it will be the poor who will suf­fer most.

This will be a con­tin­u­a­tion of the pain that most South Africans have suf­fered for years; pain at a greater level than nec­es­sary, even un­der the cur­rent sys­tem and in this time of global eco­nomic cri­sis.

Since 1996, when tar­iff bar­ri­ers were col­lapsed at a level even the World Trade Or­gan­i­sa­tion did not de­mand, a flood of cheap prod­ucts – ini­tially, mainly gar­ments and footwear – poured in from coun­tries such as China, Bangladesh, In­done­sia and Viet­nam. And jobs dis­ap­peared.

At that time, the trade union move­ment spoke with one voice, de­mand­ing that South Africa should trade only with those coun­tries which pro­vided the same wage rates and labour rights that ap­plied here.

This was an in­her­ently rea­son­able call for fair trade which also pro­vided sol­i­dar­ity to work­ers in other re­gions and coun­tries.

But no one in gov­ern­ment was lis­ten­ing. And with the ma­jor labour fed­er­a­tion, Cosatu, af­fil­i­ated to, and dom­i­nated by, the ANC gov­ern­ment, such eth­i­cal de­mands soon fell by the way­side.

How­ever, over the past 20 years, th­ese is­sues con­tin­ued to be raised in one form or other. The pro­pos­als put for­ward by the labour move­ment have amounted only to call­ing for the fair trade that the lib­eral “free mar­ket” sys­tem sup­pos­edly sup­ports.

The most re­cent case, news of which was buried by the “Zuma must go” furore, con­cerned the dump­ing of (some­times rot­ten) chicken por­tions from Brazil. But the ques­tion of poul­try imports has been on­go­ing for years.

Unions and pro­duc­ers have pointed out that wages – and costs gen­er­ally – in the US, for ex­am­ple, are much higher than in South Africa. Yet poul­try from the US, af­ter be­ing shipped across the At­lantic Ocean, can be sold more cheaply than the lo­cal prod­uct.

Var­i­ous forms of sub­sidy play a part in such trans­ac­tions, and while they keep the tills of whole­salers and re­tail­ers in South Africa jin­gling, they also de­stroy lo­cal jobs and in­dus­try.

But so, too, do prod­ucts pro­duced by vir­tual slave labour. Yet, it is against such com­pe­ti­tion that work­ers in South Africa are told they must com­pete; that they are sim­ply too ex­pen­sive.

Here, in the “smaller pic­ture”, lie many of the el­e­ments of the real prob­lems we all face.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.