OPINION: Mills on ... Christian Aid

Do you care who wins the takeover for Safeway? Thought not, as long as there's choice and low prices.

They care about it much more in the Caribbean where, as I heard in a sad radio interview with the prime minister of the Grenadines, they're dead against Asda. An Asda takeover of Safeway would spell trouble for the banana growers of the Grenadines because Walmart, which owns Asda, buys all its bananas from Honduras and the loss of the Safeway business would devastate the Grenadines' economy. It's a chilling reminder of how, in the relentless sweep of global trade, it's the small people such as banana farmers who get brushed aside without a thought.

Imagine explaining to someone from the Grenadines that their livelihood has been destroyed because of the decision by a handful of fund managers in New York and London to support the Asda bid for Safeway; or because the Competition Commission has decided that the poor citizens of Britain would benefit from the wider application of Walmart's awesome buying power.

It is this issue that the charity Christian Aid highlights in its latest campaign through Partners BDDH. Instead of the Grenadine banana farmer, however, we have Charles Avaala, a Ghanaian tomato grower who not only can't export tomatoes, but finds his home market under attack from cheap, subsidised European tomatoes. Same difference though.

At first you think this might be an odd subject for a charity that goes by the name of Christian Aid. The inequities of world trade are no respecter of religious denomination. In fact Christian Aid is better described as a Third World charity whose main aim is to remove inequalities. Most recently it has targeted the issue of Third World debt - with some success if the evidence of the Jubilee 2000 campaign is to be believed. And now, along with other charities it must be said, it is focusing on world trade.

Of course this is a hugely complex issue, hard to tackle in advertising unless, as the debt issue proved, you're prepared to pay a long-term game to shift public opinion in tiny increments. It is a fight that has to be conducted in the corridors of power in Whitehall, Brusssels and Washington as well as on the high street. I say the high street because, at the end of the day, it comes down to the price we are prepared to pay for our bananas and tomatoes. In that sense we all bear some responsibility, whether through our own purchasing habits or through the decisions of fund managers notionally acting - it is our pension fund money, after all - on our behalf.

Accordingly, this Christian Aid ad, via the metaphor of wrestling promotion, speaks to us all. But does it have any effect? The proposition - that enfeebled Third World farmers are squeezed by all-powerful supermarket buyers - certainly strikes a chord, not least because it is counter-intuitive.

Isn't world trade supposed to make us all richer? Not necessarily, if this ad is to be believed. Personalising the victim while depersonalising and demonising the bully is also a neat trick since we identify with the former and fear the latter.

I took the trouble to read this ad because I'm interested in the issue, but it could have been better. First, intriguing though the concept is, it's a typographical dog's dinner. Why make it harder to read than it need be? Second, that faceless world trader is actually the guy who manages my pension fund or buys tomatoes for Walmart. He or she could be my neighbour.

How much more effective would it have been to show that the "bullies" are, just like the Third World farmers, ordinary people doing apparently ordinary jobs? Still, as instructed, I shall be cutting off the coupon at the bottom of the ad and mailing it to Tony Blair. Shame though that they did their best to hide the coupon away. It's supposed to be a call to action, not inaction.

Dead cert for a Pencil? Not for art direction.

File under C for conscience-pricker.

What would the vicar's wife say? "So, how much are you prepared to pay

for Ghanaian tomatoes then?"