Various scholars have analyzed celebreties’ involvement in ‘fair trade’ (Goodman or Richey & Ponte). Has anyone looked at how celebreties contribute to “unfair trade”? Let’s do it. Recently, Penelope Cruz (PC) pops up all over Zurich again on ads for the Swiss company Charles Voegele (CV).
Charles Voegele (626 Million CHF turnover & 62 Mill losses in the first half year 2011) sells rather cheap, low quality clothing for relatively low prices (but the PC campaign is for higher segment clothes). The Swiss NGO Declaration of Berne and the Asian Floor Wage Campaign recently criticized CV for not committing to pay living wages (to my information CV also only employs less than one person to improve working conditions, which is too little to really change things):
In this situation, does Penelope Cruz contribute to poor working conditions (i.e. unfair trade)?
According to the dead American political philosopher, Iris Young, poor working conditions are the mediated result of complex structures, into which different actors are embedded and to which they all contribute. She claims that no one is singularly responsible for poor working conditions (no company, no supplier, no consumer and also not PC), but all share a forward-looking responsibility to better working conditions. She suggests that power, privilege, interest and collective ability define what responsibility single actors share to make the things better and argues that we should discharge our responsibility through collective action.
In the Cruz case, the actor does not need to collectively engage, it simply seems sufficient, if she does not support a company that seems to support unfair practices: She certainly does not need the few millions she earns with the ads; she has the power and privilege to say no to advertise for a company that does not support high wages (she could select a fair trade company). She might not have the collective abillity to change the situation, but she can choose not to contribute (last year her whole family travelled to Switzerland and was the star at a CV event and not she is an ‘ambassardor’ and certainly leads women to buying at CV). I would thus argue that Cruz has the shared responsibility not to advertise for a company that is criticized for doing little to prevent poor working conditions. Simply: PC is not PC.
Please not that this is nothing personal against PC – on the contrary, I Almodovar’s movies in which she plays belong to my favourite ones.
My colleague, Juliane Reineke, just published the article “Beyond a subjective theory of value and towards a ‘fair price’: an organizational perspective on Fairtrade minimum price setting” in Organization 17(5): 563-581. The abstract looks promising, but I haven’t yet read the article:
This article explores Fairtrade minimum price setting as an organizational formulation of a critical response to economic liberalism and its underlying notion of value—a subjective theory of value. The aim of the article is to show what happens if such meta-level philosophical debates on fairness and markets are lived out organizationally. This is achieved by using an ethnographic study of the price setting process of the Fairtrade Labelling Organizations. The case unpacks the complexities of defining a ‘fair’ price beyond the principle of marginal utility. I draw on French pragmatist sociology in order to decompose the political and moral constructions that underpin the organizational practices of minimum price setting. Challenging the assumption of free choice in neo-classical economics, Fairtrade redefines not only how value should be calculated, but also what it is it that should be valued and who values. This makes visible the political confrontation at the point of price determination, notably by providing a social arena for where conflicts of interest between opposing parties are played out. Once the producer enters price formation processes as a person and not only as the alienable owner of a commodity, the social, political and ecological and relations of production come to the fore that are otherwise concealed through the spontaneous market mechanism.
Juliane wrote her PhD on “Corporate Social Responsibility, Ethical Consumption, Moral Agency versus Market Rationality” at Judge Business School, Cambridge,
I just came across a wonderful illustration of a speech by the famous philosopher and psychoanalytic Slavoj Zizek “First a tradegy then a farce” at the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA). In his speech he criticizes “cultural capitalism” and argues why charity is the basic constituent of our economy. Let me just point out some of his rather radical (but never the less insteresting) suggestions:
He claims that “there is an element of hypocracy in charity” and that charity degrades and demoralizes (e.g. it is immoral to use private property in order to alleviate the horrible evils that result from the institution of private property). He illustrates what he means by consumer culture with the example of buying starbucks’ fair trade coffee: In your consumerist act of buying a cup of fair trade coffee you also do good for the environment, for the communities in Guatamala etc. – i.e. you fulfil ethical duties, which “makes you feel warm”. However, he calls this a “short circuit where the very act of egotist consumption already includes the price for its opposite”. The problem about charity, in this view, is that it does not cure the disease, but merely prolongs it. The real aim should be to try to reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible (while not arguing marxist).
I am not saying that I support his arguments – but there is something about his thoughts and the animation is just wonderful.