Buying into Fair Trade

Buying into Fair Trade: Culture, Morality, and Consumption

Keith R. Brown
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 199
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  • Book Info
    Buying into Fair Trade
    Book Description:

    Stamped on products from coffee to handicrafts, the term fair trade has quickly become one of today's most seductive consumer buzzwords. Purportedly created through fair labor practices, or in ways that are environmentally sustainable, fair-trade products give buyers peace of mind in knowing that, in theory, how they shop can help make the world a better place. Buying into Fair Trade turns the spotlight onto this growing trend, exploring how fair-trade shoppers think about their own altruism within an increasingly global economy. Using over 100 interviews with fair-trade consumers, national leaders of the movement, coffee farmers, and artisans, author Keith Brown describes both the strategies that consumers use to confront the moral contradictions involved in trying to shop ethically and the ways shopkeepers and suppliers reconcile their need to do good with the ever-present need to turn a profit. Brown also provides a how-to chapter that outlines strategies readers can use to appear altruistic, highlighting the ways that socially responsible markets have been detached from issues of morality. A fascinating account of how consumers first learn about, understand, and sometimes ignore the ethical implications of shopping, Buying into Fair Trade sheds new light on the potential for the fair trade market to reshape the world into a more socially-just place. Keith Brown is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2538-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. 1 A Taste of Life in the Nicaraguan Campo
    (pp. 1-30)

    During my first night in thecampo(countryside), I was alert to unfamiliar sounds: a bat flew in and out of my room, roosters crowed throughout the night, and a woman pounded fresh corn tortillas before the sun rose. My room looked like it had been used for storage before being converted into lodging for fair-trade ecotourists. It was damp because of the dirt floor and the incessant rain. The wooden walls were dilapidated and almost transparent. Unlike our host families, who had no such protections, my fellow travelers and I slept under nets to protect us from mosquitoes carrying...

  5. 2 “Just One Normal Coffee”: Crafting Joe’s Moral Reputation
    (pp. 31-54)

    “Can I just get a regular cup of coffee?” the frustrated and caffeine-deprived woman asked upon entering Joe’s café for the first (and probably last) time. “I’ve had the organic-type coffee before, and I don’t want anything like that.” Joe, who was working the counter, blushed. He assured the woman that he sold only the “highest quality” coffee beans picked by workers who “are paid fairly.” He even added one of his oft-repeated but not entirely true refrains: “No children picked the beans in this coffee.”¹ But the customer did not look convinced, so Joe exclaimed, “Ma’am, just have a...

  6. 3 “Buy More Coffee”: Becoming a Promoter through Extraordinary Experiences
    (pp. 55-72)

    Soon after booking my “reality tour” to a fair-trade coffee cooperative in Nicaragua, I learned that in 1972, Roberto Clemente’s plane had crashed on his way to this same Central American country. Clemente was a perennial all-star in Major League Baseball who was known for his humanitarian work throughout Latin America. My mind turned to the other snippets of information I knew about Nicaragua: the coffee crisis, the Contra war, and the country’s status as the second poorest in the western hemisphere. While not a fatalist at heart, I could not ignore the fact that almost all the knowledge I...

  7. 4 “Who Are We Pillaging from This Time?”: Managing Value Contradictions in Shopping
    (pp. 73-94)

    Members of the Ten Thousand Villages marketing department make all their crucial decisions by asking one simple question: “What would Gwen do?” Would Gwen purchase this red vase inscribed with handwritten Bengali script? Would she like these ebony-inlaid silver hook earrings? Or would she prefer a red leather purse designed to look like a cat? Gwen is a thirty-six-year-old mother with a child in preschool who works as an associate professor at a local university. She and her husband have a combined income of more than $90,000 a year. She likes to travel, read, and practice yoga. Gwen and her...

  8. 5 How to Appear Altruistic
    (pp. 95-120)

    By 2007, the Independents Coffee Cooperative was up and running. It had a stylish logo, a strong fund-raising presence within the nonprofit community, and even an advertising campaign that promoted its fair trade and socially conscious cafés. The positive attention it was receiving as well as its emphasis on ethical shopping frustrated Todd Carmichael, a prominent local coffee-shop competitor, who was quoted in a local newspaper:

    Some are like, “Buy my coffee because I don’t slap my wife.” Dude, come on. . . . Of course you don’t slap your wife. Of course I do fair trade. Of course I...

  9. 6 The Great Recession and the Social Significance of Buying into Fair Trade
    (pp. 121-140)

    When I began this book, I sought to understand the pathways to participation in the fair-trade movement. I was also curious as to why individuals want to support producers living halfway around the globe when there are so many pressing social problems closer to home. I was interested in the ways people discuss moral issues, and I wanted to figure out how individuals make sense of the contradictions between their ideals and their everyday purchases. Mainstream theories of consumer culture and social movements provided the framework for examining many of these issues. But I kept struggling to make sense of...

  10. APPENDIX: Research Methods
    (pp. 141-154)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 155-170)
    (pp. 171-180)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 181-187)
  14. About the Author
    (pp. 188-188)