Is Fair Trade Rock and Roll?
We recently had a retail store call to cancel an order. The reason? They said they were a “hipster, rock and roll store and they didn’t think Fair Trade was rock and roll.” What??? In my mind, Fair Trade is completely rock and roll! It’s about rebellion and going against the grain – an anti-big corporation kind of movement! It’s all about leveling the playing field, and providing opportunities to those unable to stand up for themselves!
They must not have known that top rockers like Bono, Paul McCartney, Coldplay’s Chris Martin, and Annie Lennox have donated their time and celebrity status to give media attention and credibility to Fair Trade. Other celebrities like Colin Firth have actually started a Eco/Fair Trade business, while stars like Harry Potter’s Emma Watson are lending their names and design talents to established Fair Trade clothing companies like People Tree UK.
But does that make Fair Trade rock and roll?
Fair Trade itself makes a statement against traditional trade. Where large corporations benefit from huge profits gotten from factory workers paid low wages, Fair Trade was set up to throw change in the face of conventional trade. It is meant to give the workers a voice and equalize the path from the first world to the developing one.
Muse just produced a thought-provoking video for their song “Some Things Cost More Than You Realise” available on MTV’s Exit channel. Our Fair Trade products were on tour with The Cure during their summer 2008 tour thanks to our friends at Pacha World, and Lollapalooza has had eco/Fair Trade sections at their last few annual events as well.
Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders sings about “Boots of Chinese Plastic” in their 2008 single of the same name. But it has been an uphill battle in a landscape where getting a good deal at Wal-Mart often trumps compassionate purchasing.
Others have eagerly jumped on the eco bandwagon. Willie Nelson’s tour bus runs on cooking oil supplied by diners’ enroute, and Dave Mathews and Sheryl Crow have contributed to green efforts and also use biodiesel fuel. So why haven’t more rockers aligned themselves with Fair Trade? Does Fair Trade inherently go against the excesses of a rock and roll lifestyle?
Rock music has certainly provided the soundtrack to a number of social movements in recent history. The first was probably the Age of Aquarius “free love” movement in the late sixties, filled with counter-culture lyrics and calls of change. This led to the late sixties/early seventies Neil Young anti-Vietnam War protest songs. Margaret Thatcher’s depressed 1970’s England sparked the original punk rock movement. So why not a soundtrack to the Fair Trade movement?
One would think the last few years of economic hardships would have spawned more protests and uprisings in general. Do things need to get worse, or does the information need to be more pervasive in order for economic inequalities to become the catalyst for a new movement? Maybe we just need more activists to bring the movement together and ignite rockers of all genres to climb on the Fair Trade movement.
Perhaps Patti Smith said it best – People Have the Power – and we just need to remember it’s up to us to change the system by seeking out and purchasing Fair Trade whenever possible.
And if that isn’t rock and roll, I’m not sure what is?
Kelly Weinberger, Founder, WorldFinds Fair Trade, is just as passionate about her music as she is about Fair Trade!