Tuesday 24 June 2003

Shocking: a businessman defends freedom!

There is an excellent letter in today's Glasgow Herald from the director of food policy of the British Retail Consortium. (No direct link available to the letter, hence quoted in full):
SHOP theft is not victimless - it is the major cause of violence to retail employees - and does not deserve the blasé comments by Alex Bell (June 23). His ignorance on theft from shops is only matched by his irrational, immature, and ignorant views on global trade and consumer choice.

The reality in the modern British food economy is that retailers seek to provide their customers with a wide range of high-quality, affordable food. For many, this includes products sourced from every corner of our world.

The real injustices in global trade are caused by the stultifying tariff regime, much loved by the protectionists, that allows coffee beans to be imported, yet place an effective block on imports of coffee granules. Such a system prevents Ethiopia's farmers from adding value and modernising their economy.

British retailers go to great lengths to ensure that the products they source - whether in Fife, Florida, or Fiji - have the same specification including safety, labour standards, and quality. The way forward is not a return to the central planning that characterised Stalin's Russia, but an expansion of the food democracy in which we live.

Artificially restricting price and choice delivers for no-one - least of all those at the margins of the global economy. So the next time someone advocates theft, think whether they are Robin Hood or Uncle Joe.

Richard Ali, director of food policy, British Retail Consortium, 21 Dartmouth Street, London.

It is very rare for a business spokesman to defend free trade on principle. Although Mr Ali is somewhat wimpish on the Robin Hood question, I congratulate him on taking the good fight directly into the enemy's camp.