The notion that you can improve the lives of the world’s poorest people by cutting off the few, tenuous economic links your readers have with them is – how to put this politely? – totally insane.
I guess it makes people feel empowered to be told that their daily choices can have an impact on the lives of the world’s poorest. And there’s a noble sentiment at the heart of that that we really should honor. What’s sets me off, though, is the pig-headed determination to make the perfect the enemy of the good, shaming readers for taking part in one of the few, tragically few pipelines currently linking their pocketbooks to the world’s poorest people.
Check it out:
Around 70% of the roses being sold in the UK this week were cut in Lake Naivasha in the Great Rift Valley, according to the Kenya Flower Council. The industry is dominated by multinationals, which own vast farms, and about 800m flowers will be dispatched from Kenya to Europe in the runup to 14 February, making them the country’s biggest export earner.
While the industry’s carbon footprint is far from fragrant, there’s also the issue of low-pay and harsh employment conditions for pickers to consider.
Yes, those Kenyan flower-pickers sure are peculiar, leaving the rural idyll of life as a Kenyan subsistence farmer for the drudgery of life as a flower plantation worker. (Shhhhhh, don’t ask too many questions about rural Kenyans’ actual lives, lest you realize the conditions you’re casually condemning as “harsh” and “low paid” are an immense improvement on the alternatives – the real alternatives, not your fantasy alternatives.)
Sigh. There’s enough bad economics and confused aid thinking here to keep me going for weeks on end, but let me try for the aggressively abridged version:
The notion that you can somehow improve the lives of the world’s poorest people by cutting off the few, tenuous economic links normal people in the west have with them is – how to put this politely? – totally insane.
There’s a special perversity to targeting your guilt trip at one of the very few areas of Kenya’s rural economy actively pulling in serious investment and innovation, driving infrastructure development, creating pull for biotech capacity building and giving local people livelihood alternatives.
Somehow “being ethical” has become a luxury good. Because let’s face it, normal people on normal salaries cannot afford to pay 50 pounds (fifty quid!!) for a dozen roses. What we’re left with is a mindset where “social responsibility” just another item to be conspicuously consumed, just one more way of differentiating yourself from the hoi-poloi, who end up being stigmatizes – by implication – for the sin of…creating demand for the products very poor people supply!
Let me make this simple for you: the only known cure for poverty is economic activity. If you want to make a Kenyan farmer less poor, buy something she grows.
[Note: If you just can’t face Valentine’s without some sort of tiers mondist guilt trip for some reason, I recommend this one: it’s much better.]