Citizen’s Markets

Citizen’s Markets

Moral Trading As The Price For Entering Local & Regional Markets
Hippocratic No Harm & Fair Trade Pledges For Businesses and Professionals

Whose market is it? Surely that is a very good question.

The economist who predicted the banking crisis, Noreena Hertz, has suggested that,”Markets need to serve the interests of people as much as they serve companies or shareholders”. How can we ensure that happens at a local and regional level?

“Warrior” capitalists believe that nature is free and markets should be too. But both nature and markets have a value to us all. We call such value the Commons and it is beyond measure. Consequently local citizens should not only ask the question but consider how they could have a say about the principles under which traders are able to trade in local markets. For example, if I am trading in your locality and trading in such a way that reduces your quality of life should you have a veto or a sanction of any kind on my trading behaviour?

Under what terms should traders be “invited” to do business in local markets? We suggest there should be a moral price for the right to trade. If I am to trade in your locality I should be willing to agree to do so fairly, to do no harm and accept that polluters of the economic commons be subject at least to voluntary sanctions by consumers.  If fairness and no harm are the accepted standards against which businesses are expected to operate and any failure to do so is public knowledge then consumers have the choice not to choose to purchase goods and services from businesses that do not support their wider community.

We are not arguing for protectionism to benefit local traders over outsiders. We are arguing that some consideration needs to be given to the question of how the economic democracy of the commons should be protected for the benefit of all. Neither protectionism nor a free for all surely requires a balance that is transparently monitored by consumers on the basis of a presumption of moral trading as the price for entering local and regional markets.

Trading in our local towns and streets should carry an expectation and requirement by local citizens that traders who offer goods and services in our local markets should  abide by a Hippocratic Pledge to do no harm, to trade fairly and wherever possible to extend shared value and shared purpose within our communities.

Whilst there is always a balance between practical, realistic business practice and creating shared value with customers, an important objective for the relational economy is to bridge the gap between creating shared value ( the gift economy) and the exchange economy through the creation and extension of shared value of some kind. This is not only good business practice for individual traders, small companies and local professionals but it builds community value by increasing the quality of life for everyone as well as protecting the environment.

Local economic activity that takes place in a particular location such as a high street or a town or city market, can be considered in the same way as a common pasture. If it is over grazed, polluted or abused, it reduces in value to the people who are stakeholders in it – whether they are producers or consumers, sellers or  buyers.

We start from the premise that local people should have an informal but significant form of ownership over their local economic environments or markets. Allowing traders to trade in local markets (whether they are local companies  or national or international corporations) should be on terms that support the thriving of local economic, social and natural environments.

Just as we all have a stake in breathing clean air we all have a stake in clean markets and fair trading. Ethical and responsible trading is a crucial part of the freedoms of Civil Society and therefore must be treated as part of the Commons – as part of our Common Wealth.

Apologists for warrior capitalism and the version of business that believes only in self interest based on the pseudo- scientific myth of the survival of the fittest, suggest that all that matters is the bottom line and what traders can get away with legally rather than any moral assessment of their actions and the consequences of their actions.

Warrior capitalists confuse the concept freedom to trade with free trade, and the concept of ‘free’ with the idea of ‘no value”. How businesses make a profit can either support or bring down the quality of life of us all. So called ‘Free Trade’ actually costs the earth and  must be constrained by the protection of the environmental and economic commons within each particular context through an expectation of moral trading.

Most of us would draw the line at polluters getting away scot free and at the same time demanding that the rest of us should subsidise their costs. But this is exactly what many large companies including supermarkets do.  For example despite the fact that a significant proportion of household waste still comes from supermarket packaging, council taxpayers often subsidise these pollution costs for the benefit of passive supermarket shareholders who benefit because local people who in the main are not shareholders, have to pay part of their costs out of their local Council Tax.

The way that local economies are administered, regulated and policed is currently passive, limited and retrospective.

If  traders are asked to sign a Hippocratic Pledge of Fair Trading and Community Mindfulness ensuring they are aware of the duties and responsibilities expected of them in accepting local communities ‘invitations’ to trade in our local markets then transparency clarity and the common good are served.

Once the terms of the freedom to trade are set, consumers can call companies to account if they fail to live up to their agreements.

No doubt some would ask what difference would signing a fair trade oath make?

Whilst signing such a Hippocratic Oath may not be a perfect solution, once one Transition Town negotiated such a precedent with local traders and professionals – who no doubt would support fair trading themselves – it sets the terms upon which markets and business everywhere should operate and sets the precedent that markets belong to citizens.

It sets an expectation of corporate social responsibility for all firms no matter how large or small and puts standards in the hands of consumers and local councils rather than relying on the goodwill of a minority of companies to establish policies for social responsibility. This principle once widely accepted is potentially one small step along the road from warrior capitalism to Common Wealth Capitalism. Potentially it offers local people the opportunity to publicly admonish companies traders and professionals who choose to break the ethical trading code.

Hippocratic Trading Oaths benefit traders too by offering a level playing field, developing a potentially higher value local market place and a potentially loyal customer base as part of an inter-connnected community that  contributes in different ways to the local quality of life.


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