Again, let’s see what emerges in 15 minutes of writing.
Today, I had the pleasure of talking with a woman doing interesting work with international ag. (We were going to and from a triathlon, but more on that and the food of sport later). She is working to negotiate fair and sustainable agricultural practices overseas, particularly in Brazil. The problem she faces is the good old invisible hand.
Companies that buy and sell commodity goods (think soy and palm oil) want the cheapest prices possible. Yet the cheapest prices are often reaped from the backs of exploited workers, and grown from environmentally damaging practices (monoculture, clear-cutting). So some negotiation needs to happen. This work brings her face-to-face with ADM and Cargill execs who simply don’t see a sound financial case for higher wages or green practices–never mind that these practices are dictated by law.
So this triathlete/negotiator’s approach is to address the companies. But of course they’re not the only ones involved! There are whole countries (China, India) full of middle men happy to buy the cheap goods with no questions asked. So where does one start? How does an international body enforce this law-abiding and do-gooding?
An interesting addition: Do-gooding can come in the form of payment for environmental services (PES), which you can read about from WWF and my friend’s new and awesome blog.
11:12… a little over. You can blame the links!
Tough question. If the competitors aren’t offering living wages and growing organic, you’ll go out of business if you do, unless you can somehow get a premium, like fair trade coffee. But there’s a limited market of people who actually care about where their food comes from. And it tends to be limited to things like coffee, not commodity goods like soy. These companies aren’t going to go beyond what their competitors are doing to be “socially responsible” if they can’t profit from it – so my opinion is that we should focus on making policies to force companies to be good, rather than appeal to companies to volunteer to be good guys.
Glad you’re reading my blog – maybe I’ll write a little more about PES one of these days, right now too many funny stories to tell…