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Re-commodification

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Sally Blundell wrote about Peter Radford, ‘The Baron of Saxon’, in Idealog #4

Just months after the Saxon/Escorial fine wool brand was hailed internationally as a prime example of “de-commodification”, the Supreme Court in this country has denied growers the right to appeal a decision that overturned their successful case for the return of levies paid to the former Wool Board. The standoff goes back several years when the wool growers took the Wool Board Disestablishment Company (responsible for winding up the former Wool Board) to court for refusing to refund levies they had paid to the Wool Board. The Board had consistently refused to endorse the Saxon wool certification process, so failing, the High Court later said, to meet its statuary obligations.

Since the late 1990s, Saxon wool farmers have had to dip deep into their own pockets to promote the quality and authenticity of this fine, springy wool, without any payback from the levies paid by them to the then-Wool Board. While the High Court ruled in favour of the farmers, the Court of Appeal overturned that decision—a ruling recently endorsed by the Supreme Court. This decision was made partly on the belief that, in selling only 1,252 kilograms of wool in the 1997-98 year, the brand fell below the threshold for special consideration by the board. Yet sales were actually 357,000 kilograms of wool and there is no legal threshold that determines such consideration.

The ruling seems to fly in the face of the Government’s support for high-value New Zealand products. In keeping control of the production, supply and marketing of the wool under the now internationally-respected Escorial brand, these farmers put into practice what trade experts around the world have long been urging. Earlier this year Escorial was cited by UK Professor of International Development Raphael Kaplinsky, in his paper to the United Nations Committee on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), as a prime example of the “de-commodification” of basic commodities by which “relatively high incomes are earned by producers who are able to tailor their output to the needs of very dynamic markets”. Just last month an agreement with prestigious New York fashion house Brooks Brothers was made under which Saxon wool would be used in 30 percent of its boutique clothing output.

Australian Wool Innovation Limited (AWI), a not-for-profit company which invests in global R&D, textile product development, marketing and industry affairs, is now putting its support behind Australian Saxon growers and the Brooks Brothers deal, as the NBR reported on Friday. And New Zealand support?

“I’m not after a sympathy vote,” says Saxon/Escorial founder Peter Radford, “but these products should be valued for what they are. This isn’t just about wool producers. There are amazing opportunities out there for people who are thinking about what consumers want. I’m still hoping there’s somebody out there that can see reason.”

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