Waking up on Wednesday and trying to process the reality that Trump is now president-elect was tough. I was a Bernie supporter who reluctantly voted for Hillary. It seems apparent that the driving force behind the vote was a rejection of 50 years of Globalization and the perceived damage to US manufacturing jobs. What does this mean for those of us who have spent the better part of our lives promoting Fair Trade and rejecting elements of Globalization? Did we win or lose on Tuesday?
I think a little of both and frankly how we react today and in the months and years to come could be critical. Clearly Americans have rejected the Free Trade version of Globalization that we have been campaigning against for decades. Unfortunately the underlying message that Candidate Trump used to secure victory was one of isolationism and a rejection of inclusiveness, the opposite of values we as Fair Traders hold dear, never mind a complete rejection of Global Warming.
Today is a day that we as a movement need to make the case to the American consumer that we too oppose a globalization that includes child labor, poor working condition and exploitative pay. A globalization that makes it cheaper to produce in China than Michigan. Trade does not have to be a force for exploitation and enrichment of the few. Trade can be a force for positive change. Fair Trade seeks a level playing field where workers worldwide are paid fairly and given opportunities to improve their lives. In such a scenario, American consumers still have access to the goods and cultures of a globalized world without the unfair conditions that encourage corporations to shift production to the cheapest economy they can find. Our trade policies can lift communities in the developing world and not exploit them. Our trade policies can make US manufacturing viable without resorting to isolationism.
For decades those of us in the Fair Trade movement, myself included, have resisted making this case and focused more on the impact we are having on small communities. We do this because we are uncomfortable with confrontation, it is simply easier to present our movement as a good cause mission than a political movement. Today I don’t see how we can continue to avoid this conversation. The Free Trade model of globalization has been challenged to its core, first by Brexit and now by President-elect Trump. If we want a version of globalization that includes Fair Trade we have to be willing to participate in that debate. Will it be uncomfortable, yes. Will we face an onslaught of abuse from those who see isolationism and exclusion as the tools to protect America, probably.
Today we face choices, we can continue as a fringe movement perceived by many as a charity in a new world where we are likely to face growing hostility for producing in “other” countries, or we can make the political case for positive change in the way America trades.