Monday, September 14, 2009

Fair trade sugar: 1849

A Gentleman named Bull being in great trouble and distress of mind, is anxious to be introduced to some Casuist who will undertake to quiet his conscience. Mr. Bull is the proprietor of certain colonial possessions devoted to the cultivation of sugar. In these he, some years ago, abolished Negro slavery, from a conviction that it was barbarous and wicked. In justice to his colonists he entered into an arrangement to place a prohibitive duty on slave-grown sugar. This arrangement Mr, Bull, being fond of sugar, and desirous of obtaining the article cheap, subsequently annulled.

Mr. Bull is persuaded by his economical advisers that he did not, by so doing, break faith with his colonists; but feeling uncomfortably dubious as to this point, he would be glad to have it settled to his satisfaction. He has renounced slave-holding, believing it to be criminal; but while he continues to consume slave- grown sugar, it strikes him forcibly that he is in the same position as a receiver of stolen goods. He will feel deeply grateful to any ingenious person who will convince him that he is mistaken in this view.

Mr. Bull desires to enjoy cheap sugar, unalloyed by the reflection that he is encouraging slavery. He wants to be enabled to congratulate himself on having abolished slavery, without being obliged to reproach himself for admitting the produce of slave labour. He wishes to revel, at the same time, in sugar and self-complacency. He seeks, in fact, to be relieved from the disagreeable suspicion that he is acting the part of a humbug; and any special pleader who will do him this kindness will be handsomely rewarded.
--From Punch, or The London Charivari--

Those Victorians with their silly moral crusades, trying to force their values on other people.

If the Victorians were effective, it's probably because they focused their attention on one specific problem at a time, not the grab-bag of moral standards embodied by today's fair trade movement. Fair trade labels are so prone to abuse that it's probably best to avoid them for moral reasons.

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