War on Fairtrade

Supermarket retailer Sainsbury’s has announced that they are abandoning the Fairtrade standard for their teas and introducing a new Sainbury’s “Fairly Traded” mark. This is an act of war against Fairtrade. You think I’m exaggerating? I wish I were.

To be fair, I do not know that Sainsbury’s is deliberately at war with Fairtrade. Maybe they just haven’t thought it through. But this action is an act of war, intentional or otherwise. It does as much potential violence to Fairtrade as launching a torpedo does to a ship.

Before I go on, yes there are many things one might say about the Sainsbury’s “Fairly Traded” mark. Some are good, some bad. There’s plenty about accountability to an independent body and about moving goalposts for this new mark. There’s the observations of the Fairtrade Foundation itself about how “Fairly Traded” disempowers farmers. I am not talking about any of this. I am talking, instead about an old spin doctoring trick: redefining the language.

“Fairly Traded” is an act of war because it is an assault on the very language that makes the Fairtrade campaign possible. All human ideas rely on language to convey them. The Fairtrade Foundation has spent many long years building a semantic field around the word “Fairtrade”. Because of this, the word is now part of our vocabulary and it gives us language to speak about the whole idea of Fair Trade. This new term, “Fairly Traded”, sounds very similar to “Fairtrade” and yet it is a term that does not mean the same thing as “Fairtrade”, a term that is controlled solely by Sainsbury’s, a term that is open to change in the future. Suddenly the new language dilutes and confuses our existing language.

We’ve seen this before with the Living Wage campaign. The Tory government managed to destroy this campaign by the simple expedient of stealing the term “living wage”. They redefined the “minimum wage” as the “living wage” and immediately the press began to speak of “living wage” in reference to the previously-named “minimum wage”. It became impossible to speak of the actual “living wage” as defined by the Living Wage Foundation because the government had stolen the language.

It happens with branding and marketing. We all know, don’t we, the supermarket cereal brands which look just like the named brands on casual inspection. One has to be careful and deliberate if one wants to buy the actual branded product.

This is what Sainsbuy’s has done to Fairtrade. They have stolen the language and are in the process of redefining it. The only possible result of this is confusion. And, as all major retailers know, confusion is a powerful weapon for controlling the consumer.

It’s one more thing, though, as well. Confusion and chaos have always been the tools of evil. There is nothing of God in this, of Jesus, the way the truth and the life (John 14:6). Those who side with confusion and chaos choose dangerous bed-partners.

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