Edited by Laura T. Raynolds and Elizabeth A. Bennett
Chapter 3: The meaning of fair trade
When American politicians discuss international trade on the campaign trail they are likely to use the following popular refrain, ‘I am in favor of free trade as long as it is also fair trade’. Politicians are quick to discuss the unfair trading practices of other countries that put American workers at a disadvantage. US corporations usually join in, perhaps because they are the inspiration behind this refrain. Businesses often complain that the practices of foreign companies and foreign governments steal jobs away from American workers and put US businesses at a disadvantage. Allegations usually involve unfairly low wages, lenient environmental and safety standards, child labor and government policies such as subsidies, all of which give foreign firms an advantage in international markets. The political effectiveness of unfair trade allegations as a rhetorical device is bolstered by several factors. First, virtually everyone supports fairness; no one can reasonably argue that unfair policies are acceptable and so there is never opposition to fairness in principle. Second, fairness is a multifaceted concept that can take on different meanings. This implies that a group of people, all in support of fairness, may actually be supporting different notions of fairness simultaneously. Third, most people instinctively and strongly respond to situations they interpret as unfair. For these reasons, if you can convince someone that something is unfair, then you may also convince them to support actions or policies that will protect against or eliminate the unfairness.
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