Robin Murray was an economist. But I have come across no other of that tribe who, like him, showed economics its proper place in the larger order of human pursuits. He refused, with the resoluteness of a conscientious objector, to let the black and red pencils of the auditor decide the fate of enterprises committed to humanising the exchange of goods and services. If today, against the pervasive corporate appropriation of the fair trade narrative, we are able to celebrate entities like Cafedirect, Divine Chocolate and Liberation holding aloft the flag of trade justice, we owe it in no small measure to Robin's indefatigable story telling.
The narrative was key to Robin. Without it the best of numbers was unimpressive, but the most dismal of numbers was still redeemable with a narrative of human endurance to bet on and outlive. I saw this power of the narrative put to telling effect at the global assembly of Liberation held in 2008, in the nondescript village of Kelakam in Kerala. Born in to the lap of the global economic crisis, Liberation had almost wiped out its equity when its management walked in to the Assembly. Robin made no attempt to window dress the gravity of the situation. We are scratching the bottom of our chest, but even if it is the last thing we did as a company, we would hold this Assembly, Robin emphasised. 'For we are about people and community.' Mind you, as his voice boomed over an audience of about three thousand plus farmers and delegates from four continents, number crunchers back in London were vacillating if it wasn't time up to intimate the receivers. Liberation still lives to tell the tale.
Like all true adherents of the dismal profession, Robin was acutely conscious of the trade off between the short term and the long term.But unlike the pessimists of his profession he refused to concede to their maxim that 'in the long term we are all dead'. In the long term those steadfast to the narrative prevail. And they were for the most part not mega narratives. They were narratives of small farmers with smallholdings; narratives of Brazil Nut gatherers who declared the Brazil nut tree and its surrounding forests as patrimony to humanity; of the Kerala Seed Fest being a precious creation; of FairTrade being like a dance and a community meal; of the woman chair of Kuapa Kokoo defying patriarchy in her village.
I heard the news about this master storyteller's vanishing act only on the third day of the fete. All of 5500 farmer members of Fair Trade Alliance Kerala heard it though in the very next hour since and lowered their flags in salute. Another of those stories for our common repertoire, Robin.
By Tomy Mathew Vadakkancheril