This paper was published in Ruerd Ruben (ed.), The Impact of Fair Trade. Wageningen: Wageningen Academic Publishers, 2008, p. 239-250.
Is There a Moral Case for Fair Trade Products?
On a Moral Duty for Consumers to Buy and for Governments to Support
Fair Trade Products
Could there be a moral duty for consumers to buy fair trade products? Even more dramatically, could there be a moral duty for governments to support fair trade products? This essay argues that the answer to both questions may well be affirmative – where I am thinking of consumers and governments of (relatively) affluent countries such as Western countries. In relation to the first question, the existence of a moral duty to buy fair trade products goes against the idea that, in their consumer behavior, individuals are morally free to choose as they please or prefer. In relation to the second question, the existence of a moral duty for governments to support fair trade products goes against the idea that governments should not interfere with markets, among other things because these markets are thought of as devices that give voice to consumer preferences. In this essay, I will try to show why despite such doubts, there may still be a moral duty for consumers to buy and for governments to support fair trade products. By fair trade products I shall mean products that take account of some minimal standard of protection for producers, and possibly also for the environment.
The essay is structured as follows. In the remainder of this introduction, some doubts will be dispelled as to whether morals or ethics is a subject about which sensible things can be said at all (section 1). In section 2, I will argue that individuals may well have a moral duty to buy fair trade products. This argument sets the stage for the next section (section 3), which argues that governments may well have a moral duty to support fair trade products. Where sections 2 and 3 consider two prominent moral approaches –contractualism and consequentialism--, section 4 offers some arguments as to why a prominent different moral approach could also agree with our conclusions. On all three approaches, then, it seems that moral agents are not acting as they should, and the question arises as to why not: why, for example, do fair trade products not have much larger market shares? The essay will end with some remarks concerning this admittedly complex issue.
By way of preliminary remark, then, let us consider the view that there are really no meaningful things to be said about morals or ethics, that is, about such issues as what is good and bad, and what it is right and wrong to do. This view, which one may call skeptical (or, somewhat less appropriately, subjectivist, or relativist), holds that morals or ethics are what someone pleases (or not) to make of them: there is nothing real to talk about here. I take it that this view is ultimately entirely indefensible, and that its indefensibility is best shown not in a theoretical but in a practical way. The point to emphasize is that (virtually) no one accepts the view’s practical implications, such as that it is perfectly all right for people to severely harm someone just because they feel like doing this. Such an implication is surely absurd, and it becomes even more unacceptable to most of us if we are the ones who might suffer the harm: when we ourselves are wronged, who of us believes that ethics is nothing real and just whatever one likes it to be? (cf. Nagel 1971, p. 145) These considerations suffice to show that, when discussing morals and ethics, we do have a meaningful subject on our hands. Now, let us see whether a moral duty to buy fair trade products is defensible.
2 Is There a Moral Duty for Consumers to Buy Fair Trade Products?
Modern ethical thought has generated two main broad approaches for determining what moral duties certain agents have. One approach, called (broadly) ‘Kantian’ because it is inspired by the great 18th century philosopher, Immanuel Kant, asks whether a certain course of action is one that would find universal acceptance, or, put differently, whether it is a course of action that no one could reasonably reject. I will extensively discuss this approach, and come to the other main approach –which is commonly called ‘consequentialist’-- only at the end of this section.
If we apply the broadly Kantian approach to our question, the following may be the main questions to consider: could the peasants who produce fair trade products reasonably reject a permission for Western consumers not to buy such products? And, could Western consumers, in turn, reasonably reject that there is a duty for them to buy fair trade products? I will now, without striving to be complete, discuss some important issues that bear on these questions.
For the peasants who produce fair trade goods, like coffee, things may seem straightforward. What is at stake for them is their ability to live in minimally acceptable conditions, which have to do with housing, sanitation, with the education for their children, and with healthcare for themselves and their families. However, more complex goods and values may also be involved, like their ability to participate in the community, and their self-respect and dignity; and these complex goods, in turn, serve to remind us that even apparently simple goods (like food or healthcare) can involve a lot of complexity... Nevertheless, there will be wide agreement about the importance of (many of) the goods that are at stake for the peasants, and justifiably so, if only because such goods as decent housing and basic healthcare are plausibly preconditions for almost any other goods that people may value.
Of course, if we say that for the producer-peasants such goods as basic health care are ‘at stake’ in decisions of Western consumers to buy or not to buy fair trade products, there is the question of what good individual Western consumers actually do or can do by buying fair trade products; and not only the question of what good they can do to the producer-farmers, but also the question of whether they harm third parties by benefiting these farmers, in which case such third parties might reasonably reject a duty (or even a permission) for Western consumers to buy fair trade products. A large part of the issues involved in answering these questions is empirical, and I will not consider it in this essay; in what follows I will just assume to be talking about fair trade products which bring great benefits to producer-farmers (also in the long run) without substantially harming others. Another part of the issues involved does have a less empirical (and more philosophical) side, namely those issues concerning how to determine and morally to evaluate just how much good (if any) individual contributions to cooperative projects do: is my purchase of a few kilos of coffee of any help to the success of a fair trade project, or is its effect really negligible or inexistent? If it is negligible, would there still be a moral case for my contribution? Such questions have sparked sophisticated debates, which I cannot pursue here; suffice it to say that in the face of such complications, many philosophers (e.g., Parfit 1984, Ch.3; Cullity 2004, Ch. 4) have seen no reason for skepticism about the effect and/or about the moral case for individual contributions. (One kind of argument that has figured prominently in the pertinent debates is the usefulness and the moral obligation of an individual contributing their ‘fair share’.) Therefore fair trade farmers can, as before, reasonably reject (systems of) moral principles that do not specify a duty for Western consumers to buy fair trade products.
Let us now turn to Western consumers: why could they reasonably object to a duty to buy fair trade trade products? They can say that if they had such a duty, they would face greater expenses –inasmuch as fair trade products are more expensive– and thus be left with less money and, consequently, with less choice in their lives. It will of course depend whether it is reasonable for consumers to object to a principle on these grounds; the crucial issue here seems to me to be that finances and an array of choice are, to a certain extent, needed if one is to live at all and even more so if, very generally speaking, one is to flourish to some minimal degree. More particularly, they are needed if one is to be able to live one’s life to some minimum degree by one’s own light; and the importance of being able to live in this way has generated endless comment but seems rather nicely captured in the following famous quote from Isaiah Berlin (a quote which also involves much else):
'I wish my life and my decisions to depend on myself, not on external forces of whatever kind. I wish to be the instrument of my own, not other men’s acts of will ... I wish, above all, to be conscious of myself as a thinking, willing, active being, bearing responsibility for my choices and able to explain them by reference to my own ideas and purposes.' (Berlin 1969, p. 131)
It is important to add, however, that often a reduction of funds and of choices does not credibly jeopardize the ability of consumers to live by their own lights, let alone their ability to have minimally decent living conditions (cf. Philips 2007, Ch. 6). Often, it is more plausible to say that what they give up when buying fair trade products (if anything) is just some extra money and some luxuries, without which they can still –even if plain and simple luxuries are surprisingly hard to think of– do very much everything that matters to them.
Having seen the matter from two sides, that of the producer-farmers and that of Western consumers, the question is how we should balance these against one another. I mention three considerations that are relevant here. First, although it is plausible, as said, that individual contributions are meaningful contributions to fair trade projects, one may have some doubts as to just how meaningful they are. Sometimes supporting some faraway project does seem to bring great and immediate good (frequently, projects set up by someone you know personally spring to mind), but often the suspicion is that the good that projects do is mitigated by all kinds of middlemen, siphons etc. In such cases, it may be thought that even the sacrifice of relatively clear luxuries for the sake of supporting fair trade projects, may be resisted.
However, I think that this is not so. To show this, I would appeal to a second consideration, namely, that it is extremely hard to believe that the global institutional arrangements that we, as Western individuals, have allegedly upheld and that we have in any case benefited from, are morally defensible. If they are not, then some compensation is due to those who were harmed as a result. For this reason, there is a case that Western consumers should contribute to fair trade projects, i.e. buy fair trade products, even where middlemen and other efficiency-reducing complexities are involved in getting consumers’ contributions to these projects.
There is, however, a third important consideration. Whether it is reasonable for Western consumers to object to a duty to buy fair trade products will certainly also depend on the other duties of equal or greater stringency these consumers would have. However, the urgent nature of the goods served by buying fair trade products, coupled with the thought just mentioned about compensation for past harms, make it clear that the case in favor of having to buy fair trade products is a very weighty one. Accordingly, only if there were very weighty countervailing reasons could a duty on the part of consumers to buy fair trade products be reasonably rejectable. It is unlikely that Western consumers could point out that such countervailing reasons apply to them. There may be some exceptions, as firstly, where there are undoubtedly good causes other than ‘fair-trade’ to which consumers can contribute clearly more effectively; and secondly, where consumers are unemployed, single mothers or in similar situations. But otherwise it will be hard for Western consumers to find good countervailing reasons. This will obviously be especially hard for products where there is a wide choice of fair trade products (as in the case of coffee) and where fair-trade products are not much, if at all, more expensive than non-fair-trade varieties (as is sometimes the case for chocolate).
I want to leave the argument here as to why Western consumers may well have a moral duty to buy fair trade products, and turn to the duty that Western governments may have to support fair trade products. Before doing so, however, it is important to note that, where we have been pursuing a broadly Kantian form of moral reasoning, an argument to the same effect can be made in the other main contemporary style of moral reasoning, which is called consequentialist, because it holds that moral agents should always choose the course of action which, of all those courses of action available to them, promises the best results or consequences. I shall be very brief here, because I have extensively pursued a consequentialist style of moral reasoning elsewhere (see Philips 2007, esp. Ch. 6). Inasmuch as very basic goods are at stake in supporting fair trade projects, and inasmuch as Western consumers can expect to reasonably effectively be able to contribute to the realization of these goods, there may, for a consequentialist, well be a moral duty for these consumers to do so – and there is certainly such a duty whenever, in buying fair trade products, only relatively clear luxuries are ‘sacrificed’ and where there is no clearly urgent cause in sight that allows for contributions more effective than those made though buying fair trade products.
3 Is There a Moral Duty for Governments to Support Fair Trade Products?
Could there be a moral duty for governments to support fair trade products? We could proceed here as we did above: we could ask whether a duty on the part of governments to support fair trade products would be reasonably rejectable, from the standpoint of fair-trade farmers or Western consumers, or from the standpoint of some other party. By ‘supporting’, I mean reducing value added taxes on fair trade products or similar measures. Fair trade farmers could plead in favor of a duty to support their products for the reasons we saw in the previous section: they could point out that for them, such a duty serves a number of vitally important goods. However, the objections that Western consumers could have to such a duty will be somewhat different from the objections they could have to a duty for themselves to buy fair trade products. On the one hand, it is not so likely that, for reasons of finances or choice reduction, they could have credible objections against a government duty to support fair trade products. For, with the exception of those consumers whose income depends on products that compete with fair trade products, government support for fair trade products does not cost consumers any money. Now it could be the case that such support is paid for by an increase in taxes, and then it seems that it does cost consumers money. However, government support for fair trade products could also take the form of lowering value added taxes on such products, in other words, it could take the form of decreasing tax revenues. Alternatively, government expenditure could be shifted from elsewhere to the cause of supporting fair trade products. It is true that such ways of financing, too, may be cast as costing consumers money. However, the story that would need to be told here is not very straightforward, but very complex, and it would be a story in which every decision on public policy would imply costs for consumers – which is questionable. Furthermore, a government does, by supporting fair trade products, not usually radically change the range of options that consumers can choose from. It only makes some alternatives, in this case fair trade products, more attractive vis-à-vis others. Such government support does not, by itself, force consumers to buy fair trade products, nor does it entail a moral requirement for consumers to do so.
It could be objected that government support for fair trade products, as described above, still constitutes an ‘interference’ with free market structures and that as such it requires justification. This objection can be construed in at least two ways. The first way to take it is as saying that those who interfere with market structures, interfere with consumer freedom –or rather, with consumer preferences– and should therefore be able to produce good reasons for doing so. The first and most obvious reply is that actual markets, perhaps unlike the markets that figure in economic textbooks, do not always protect consumer preferences. However, let us for the sake of the argument assume that actual markets do protect consumer preferences. Then the reply to the objection can be, on the broadly Kantian line of argument that we are pursuing, that consumer preferences as such do not bear much moral weight. Some things that do bear much moral weight, we have said above, are the opportunity to have fulfilled one’s basic living conditions, and the ability to live one’s life, in important respects, by one’s own lights. The latter ability offers a much more plausible interpretation of what it is that matters about freedom or autonomy than would be offered by pointing to the (mere) ability to have one’s preferences fulfilled as much as possible. (Besides, keeping in mind someone’s ability to live their lives by their own lights also helps to illuminate why supporting fair trade products, as I have understood it, is morally much less problematic than prohibiting the sale of non-fair trade varieties.)
However, all this is compatible with holding that there is some value in (mere) preference fulfillment, because such fulfillment will figure to some extent in a conception of what it is to live one’s life by one’s own lights. Therefore some justification should be offered for interference with consumer preferences. To this it may be added that the justification had better be a good one, since very many causes for interference suggest themselves, so that the situation readily arises where interference does touch on morally weighty values, such as the ability to live one’s life importantly by one’s own lights. However, in the present context the important point is that for supporting fair trade products such a good justification is certainly available. It is available, that is, if, as we have supposed, fair trade products do lead to substantial improvements in the living conditions (and freedom) of farmers, without clearly harming third parties.
The second way of taking our objection that interference with markets should be justified points out that markets constitute efficient and effective devices for producing goods. The first thing to say in relation to this construal of the objection is that reasons of efficiency and effectiveness are not, as such, credible reasons that consumers could adduce in order to reject a duty for governments to support fair trade products. Consumers (or others) must show that to accept losses in efficiency or effectiveness means, in effect, to compromise their basic living conditions, their freedom to live by their own lights, or other important goods. Now in principle a lack of efficiency or effectiveness might indeed compromise such goods. However, it can be added as a second point that insofar as actual markets do make for efficiency –which in at least some cases, as with regard to public good, they notoriously do not– these beneficial effects will largely be preserved even if support for fair trade products was introduced, whenever such support leaves large parts of the workings of markets untouched. Furthermore, and this is a third point, such support would be in line with a history of interfering with markets for the sake of weighty causes. Not only are actual markets, as is all too well known, complex institutional arrangements that can only exist and survive in complex interplay with governments (and other institutional agents), but more particularly have governments always interfered with markets, on the one hand in order to create an environment where production of goods could become (somewhat) efficient and effective at all --through antitrust legislation, and through the provision of security, infrastructure, basic sanitary conditions etc.--; and on the other hand governments interfered to protect laborers, consumers, and the public at large. Grades and standards for food safety provide an important example here. Such grades and standards (which, again, are evidently forms of governments interference in markets) are widely accepted. Supporting fair trade products, then, may, given the vital goods that are at stake here for fair-trade farmers, be seen as just another natural area where market forces cannot be left to what they would otherwise do. Once again, one may rightly demand that interference with markets be justified and that the justification be a good one; but, as also said above, such a good justification is available for supporting fair trade products. It may be added that nothing we have said is to deny that support for fair trade products can have unintended and undesirable consequences, such as the overproduction of certain goods (like coffee or cocoa). The possibility of such consequences does not, however, speak against support for fair trade products in the sense discussed above. Rather, it indicates on the one hand the possible need to introduce other measures in addition, and on the other hand the need to carefully monitor the supportive steps that are taken as well as whatever other measures are taken. The details of the measures to be taken in favor of fair trade products are necessarily dependent on hosts of empirical questions, which this paper cannot address. But what has been said should be enough to show that a permission and even a duty for governments to support fair trade products cannot be reasonably rejected by consumers on the basis of considerations concerning the role of markets in securing certain kinds of freedom and in securing efficiency and effectiveness in the production of goods.
How would consequentialists regard government support for fair trade products? At first sight, it may seem that consequentialists would oppose measures that constitute interference with markets, inasmuch as consequentialists regard those measures as morally required which maximize fulfillment of consumer preferences and inasmuch as free markets are thought to maximize such fulfillment. However, the first point to make in reply is that –as already noted above– actual markets differ from markets in economic textbooks in that they do not always fulfill consumer preferences. Indeed, they leave some preferences –like those of the farmers who would benefit from support for fair trade– manifestly un- or underfulfilled, and thus it is very well possible that such support would be advocated from the perspective of overall fulfillment of preferences. Secondly, although all consequentialists would hold that there is a moral requirement to do what has or promises the best results, not all consequentialists agree about what constitutes the best results. Some would say that the good result that matters is the fulfillment of preferences; others would say that it is pleasure and the avoidance of pain; and still others would say that the attainment of a variety of goods matter, and that the attainment of certain urgent goods, such as the fulfillment of basic living conditions, matters especially. These last forms of consequentialism would say that the fate of the poor farmers who would benefit from government support for fair trade products, has a great deal of weight. Therefore, the government may well have a moral requirement to support fair trade products.
We started this essay with two critical considerations that at first sight tell against a moral duty for consumers to buy and for governments to support fair trade products, namely, firstly that in their consumer behavior, individuals are free to choose as they prefer, and secondly that governments should not interfere with markets, since markets give voice to consumer preferences. It is clear that the theoretical approaches that we have taken to see whether there is a moral case for buying or supporting fair trade products, do not take consumer preferences and free markets as sacrosanct, but assess their value in a broader framework. This does not mean, however, that the mentioned critical considerations are not taken seriously. Consumer preferences and free markets are seen as valuable, among other things because of the links that they have with freedom; and free markets are also instrumentally valuable to the degree that they provide a relatively efficient and effective way to produce many kinds of goods.
In closing this section, one further objection should be addressed. To say that the government should support fair trade products is to say that the government can have moral duties. But can a political entity have moral duties? I would defend that the answer is affirmative. Politics, after all, is done by politicians, and for them –like for anyone else—the most important thing would in the end be to live by their moral values; or so I will shortly argue. Of course, if these moral values are sound, they will prominently include values which are often called political values, like the values of maintaining peace and order and the values of respecting those with whom you disagree and of seeking common ground with them when making decisions. Here, we may also add the value of only referring, when justifying political decisions, to grounds that everyone can be expected to acknowledge (cf. Rawls 1993). (One meets this last requirement if one justifies support for fair trade products by referring to forms of freedom and elementary flourishing that are widely seen as very important.) Thus, politicians can and indeed should make a lot of room for so-called political values, but this does not imply that such values are beyond moral assessment. Rather, the proper place of political values is best discovered and appreciated from a larger moral perspective.
4 To Conclude
Why should we care about doing the things that the approaches to morality that we have so far considered, tell us to do? There are at least two ways of taking this critical question. The first is to ask whether there could not be different approaches to morality, which would lead to very different conclusions with regard to our questions concerning support for fair trade products. The second way is to take the criticism as asking why we should act morally at all. I will take these two interpretations in reverse order.
For many religious people, the question why one should act morally was not a very difficult question to answer; it was a divine commandment to so act. But a well-known doubt about this kind of religious motivation for being moral is that it actually boils down to being moral for fear of punishment. Anyway, for many people this alleged religious motivation is no longer available and a different story needs to be told. I can only be very brief here, but I think that what is most important is to observe that moral behavior is, in the end, behavior that can be justified to some larger audience than myself. Now the point is that most of us, religious or not religious, do care a lot that our behavior is justifiable to a larger audience, and not just to ourselves and in terms of our own interests. Indeed, we care so much about such broader justifiability that, whenever certain behavior is not so justifiable, we commonly see this as a decisive reason not to perform it.
However, even if people see the importance of behaving in a morally acceptable way, we may ask whether the content of moral demands may not be fleshed out in a different way than done above (in the contractualist approach that we outlined, and in the consequentialist approach). Although the two approaches that we have discussed are probably the two most important, there are of course others. To end, I will have a brief look at just one different approach to individual morality, Bernard Williams’s, which is very different from the approaches above and which is influential (it has a number of similarities with ancient virtue ethics). As I will argue, however, this approach still yields very nearly the same conclusions as we have reached, and thereby suggests that very many different moral outlooks can agree about these conclusions.
Now, what does Williams say? He is suspicious that there could be any general moral theory that could have the authority of telling us what to do. For him, what moral requirements there are issue from the consideration that ‘each person has a life to lead’ (Williams 1985, p. 186) and must therefore be able to rely on certain things: not to be killed, not to be assaulted, and, positively, to be helped in certain cases of immediate need. However, there is, according to Williams, no general obligation to help people; such an obligation would easily come to overshadow the helper’s entire life. Yet I would think that even Williams’s outlook is friendly to admitting that there is a strong moral reason for Western consumers to buy fair trade products, at least under the conditions that obtain for many of us, specifically: where buying such products does not in any serious way cause problems for the life that we are living. Still, Williams might require in addition that there is a salient relationship between us, as Western consumers, and the beneficiaries of fair trade products (cf. Williams 2005, p. 146). But it could be argued in a number of ways that such a relationship does exist, e.g., because of the active contributions that we Western citizens make, through our consumer and voting behavior et cetera, to the predicament of the world’s poor, and/or because of the multiple global connections that exist between people worldwide in an age of globalization. Finally, these same reasons that speak in favor of a moral duty for Western consumers to buy fair trade products could also serve as reasons for them not to oppose (rather to advocate) government support for such products.
This discussion of Williams’s views is of course very brief. Nevertheless, what has been said suffices to show that a moral case for fair trade products might be made even from rather unexpected directions.
At this point, we are left with a puzzling question. If morality is generally recognized as providing important reasons, and if moral approaches usually see strong moral reasons in favor of buying and/or supporting such products, why then are we not buying many more fair trade products, and why does their market share remain so small?
Very formally speaking, there are two possibilities. Either we do not agree with the above picture and do not see the moral reasons that we have according to this picture. Or we do see things this way but our actual motivations come from elsewhere than from assent to these reasons. Those readers for whom the latter is the case should, I think, admit that they could act more in accordance with what they recognize to be their moral reasons to buy fair trade products. In the former case, by contrast, it would be interesting to see where readers disagree. If it is true that we can buy many more fair trade products that seriously improve the living conditions of many farmers without jeopardizing our autonomy or our essential flourishing in any serious way, and if the case for buying fair trade products is further strengthened by the fact that Western consumers were and are implied in the hardships that many farmers in the South face, then there is a strong case for a moral duty to buy fair trade products. This is so on many different moral approaches.
That is the story for the individual consumers. The moral case for governments to support fair trade products draws on somewhat different considerations, but here again considerations concerning the autonomy and essential flourishing of Western consumers and farmers in the South will be important. I have argued that consumer preferences as such and market freedom as such do not make for convincing arguments: while not totally devoid of importance, these considerations cannot be given some immediate sacrosanct status, but need to be backed up and explained further. The considerations that will emerge if we try to do this will again have much to do with autonomy and essential flourishing; and on these grounds, we will find more to say in favor of a moral duty to buy fair trade products (for consumers) or to support them (for governments) than against such a duty.
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 The latter formulation is freely inspired by T.M. Scanlon’s contractualist theory (1998, esp. Ch. 5), which is often considered the most important form of present-day Kantianism. In the text, I try to apply Scanlon’s approach without further discussion of its theoretical features; but it is useful to make some brief remarks here. Scanlon considers an act permissible if it is in accordance with a principle that nobody could reasonably reject. His method allows different parties to bring objections against alternative principles for regulating behavior. He proposes that that principle is not reasonably rejectable where, compared with alternatives, the largest reasonable objection is smallest. Various kinds of objections (having to do with welfare, rights, fairness etc.) can count as reasonable. And, in contrast with consequentialism, Scanlon deems the size of the parties that bring objections unimportant. In the text, Scanlon’s framework remains implicit and only the most important parties involved and the most important candidate principles are considered.
 The other contributions in this volume show that fair trade products generally meet these conditions.
 They may also gain in certain ways when buying such products! (cf. DeCarlo 2007)
 This would remain true even if (as very probably ought to happen) these structures were reformed right now; it would only not be true if such immediate reforms included due compensation for past harms. For extensive development of the theme that the global institutional order harms the poor, see the work of Thomas Pogge (e.g., 2002, 2007).
 Of course, it is not as if compensation for past harms could only take the form of buying fair trade products. However, buying fair trade products seems one credible form it could take.
 For fair-trade products where these conditions are not fulfilled, one may argue in favor of a duty for consumers to campaign for their becoming available. However, I will not develop this point here.
 Is the Scanlonian approach applicable to political morality in the first place? Or is it problematic here, for example because it could beg certain questions – e.g. against political liberalism or in favor of a fairly substantial moral cosmopolitanism? The answer is that the Scanlonian framework is general enough to be applicable to political questions, and does not beg important questions. For example, the framework leaves open the possibility that the liberties of domestic consumers/citizens count for more than those of foreigners; it may be that a principle turns out to be not reasonably rejectable that allows or even demands that a state give (possibly strong) priority of certain kinds to those within its borders. Thus, in the text it is an open question whether the state should give as much consideration to everyone’s liberties etc. or whether priority for its subjects is sometimes permissible.
 If governments should have a moral duty to support fair trade products, how would such a duty affect the possible individual moral duties to buy such products? In part both duties go together -- we still need individual duties to buy the products that receive government support. One other possibility is that supportive measures by the government may make the existence of individual duties superfluous. However, I suspect that much of the reasoning in the previous section would remain intact even if such supportive measures were taken.
 Shortly, we shall come back to this equation of consumer freedom and consumer preferences.
 This is admittedly –and in the present context unavoidably– very brief. The attractiveness of seeing the good for a person as a matter of preference-fulfillment, i.e. subjectively, resides among other things in the risks of defining the good for a person in a way that has no principled link with what they themselves regard as good, i.e. of defining it objectively. However, stressing the importance of someone being able to live by their own lights alleviates this risk to some extent.
 Emphasizing this value can be regarded as insisting that a government should in important respects be ‘neutral’.
 Concerning Williams’s views on government support, we cannot be sure. His thoughts on political issues were only published posthumously and remain rather fragmentary.