This week marks the start of Fairtrade Fortnight. Schools, church parishes and towns up and down the country are supposed to spend two weeks promoting fair trade brands.
In many ways, fair trade is part of the great liberal system of private enterprise. Some would also see it as a manifestation of David Cameron's Big Society project. At its best, fair trade is a private labelling system that gives consumers confidence that particular benefits will flow to producers from their purchases. In today's world, where big government has crowded out private regulation, these certification schemes are welcome. Fair trade proponents also argue that they develop commercial infrastructure and trade credit systems in countries where they are largely absent.
Fair trade would probably not have come under the microscope had its advocates not regularly traduced traditional free trade channels and pursued "fair trade absolutism". We should therefore be asking whether fair trade achieves what it claims to achieve, and whether it should put itself on a moral pedestal, while being extraordinarily sensitive to even the mi