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Fair Trade and Social Justice

Fair Trade and Social Justice: Global Ethnographies

Sarah Lyon
Mark Moberg
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Fair Trade and Social Justice
    Book Description:

    By 2008, total Fair Trade purchases in the developed world reached nearly $3 billion, a five-fold increase in four years. Consumers pay a fair price for Fair Trade items, which are meant to generate greater earnings for family farmers, cover the costs of production, and support socially just and environmentally sound practices. Yet constrained by existing markets and the entities that dominate them, Fair Trade often delivers material improvements for producers that are much more modest than the profound social transformations the movement claims to support.There has been scant real-world assessment of Fair Trade's effectiveness. Drawing upon fine-grained anthropological studies of a variety of regions and commodity systems including Darjeeling tea, coffee, crafts, and cut flowers, the chapters in Fair Trade and Social Justice represent the first works to use ethnographic case studies to assess whether the Fair Trade Movement is actually achieving its goals.Contributors: Julia Smith, Mark Moberg, Catherine Ziegler , Sarah Besky, Sarah M. Lyon, Catherine S. Dolan, Patrick C. Wilson, Faidra Papavasiliou, Molly Doane, Kathy M'Closkey, Jane Henrici

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6500-5
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 What’s Fair? The Paradox of Seeking Justice through Markets
    (pp. 1-24)

    In recent decades, the growth of global markets for agricultural commodities, manufactured goods, and artisanal products has made available to residents of the developed countries an unprecedented array of consumer goods originating in diverse cultures and geographies. This seemingly endless expansion of consumer choice is rooted in the process of neoliberal globalization, a model of economic development now dominant among the world’s governments, multilateral lending agencies, and trade bodies. Intended to promote global trade through neoliberalism as exercised through institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization (WTO), globalization has dismantled most...


    • [Part I Introduction]
      (pp. 25-27)

      The first set of contributions in our volume, juxtaposed with the claims of much fair trade discourse, offers ethnographic explorations of how fair trade operates on the ground in four vastly different commodity systems: coffee, bananas, tea, and cut flowers. As the first and still most extensively marketed fair trade commodity, coffee fixes in the minds of many consumers the image of fair trade as a production system based on smallscale independent farmers employing family labor. Julia Smith notes that this perception remains widespread despite a growing trend toward fair trade certification of coffee marketed by transnational corporations such as...

    • 2 Fair Trade and the Specialty Coffee Market: Growing Alliances, Shifting Rivalries
      (pp. 28-46)

      The fair trade movement has achieved great success in creating a new set of rules for a corner of the coffee market; this change in rules has had positive effects for fair-trade-certified producers and vendors but has also had influence far beyond the formal fair trade market. This chapter examines the links between the formally defined (certified) fair trade market and two closely related markets. The first related market is the specialty coffee market, in which substantially higher prices are paid for coffee of exceptional quality. This chapter argues that, at least in the United States, the fair trade market...

    • 3 A New World? Neoliberalism and Fair Trade Farming in the Eastern Caribbean
      (pp. 47-71)

      Unlike the United States, where fair trade sales are still largely limited to coffeehouses, co-ops, and online retailers, a wide array of fair trade items has been available in mainstream European supermarkets for more than a decade. Most of these goods bear the logo of Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO), which currently certifies more than 1.5 million producers of about one thousand different items originating in fifty-eight countries (FLO 2008: 11). In 2007, global fair trade retail sales exceeded $3.4 billion, a seventy-fold increase in ten years (ibid.: 3). Although fair trade has had a significant and growing impact on...

    • 4 Fair Flowers: Environmental and Social Labeling in the Global Cut Flower Trade
      (pp. 72-96)

      On chilly winter days, many American supermarkets welcome their entering customers with displays of fresh cut flowers. Urban convenience stores brighten sidewalks with buckets of orchids, roses, tulips, lilies, and even tuberoses on late winter mornings. Occasionally these fresh flowers are labeled with country of origin—Colombia, Costa Rica, Taiwan, Ecuador, Holland—but most are not. A rare few are branded in other ways: with a retailer’s name or by the bouquet maker who packages the flowers. A tiny fraction of the many billions of commercial cut flowers sold annually in the United States and Europe are also labeled by...

    • 5 Colonial Pasts and Fair Trade Futures: Changing Modes of Production and Regulation on Darjeeling Tea Plantations
      (pp. 97-122)

      On a cold winter night over milky, sugary cups of tea, I talked with fair trade plantation workers about politics in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal, tucked in the Himalayan foothills.¹ Like on many evenings, we argued about the effectiveness of Darjeeling’s political parties and politicians. Slamming his hand down on the sticky plastic table, Pranit said, “They eat all the money and buy new clothing and cars with it.” “Wrong! We will get our separate state and help us get better wages on the plantation,” said Kancha, cigarette hanging out of his mouth as he heaped white rice...


    • [Part II Introduction]
      (pp. 123-124)

      In addition to redefining producer-consumer relationships, fair trade’s certification standards have prioritized gender equity, the maintenance of local cultural traditions, and democratic participation within producer groups. The three case studies composing this section critically examine the extent to which such standards are implemented among fair trade groups producing coffee, tea, and crafts for the global market. Sarah Lyon’s study of a Maya fair trade coffee cooperative in Guatemala raises questions about the effectiveness of these initiatives, at least where gender is considered. Rather than participating in coffee production and the male-dominated cooperative sphere, female cooperative members are eager to find...

    • 6 A Market of Our Own: Women’s Livelihoods and Fair Trade Markets
      (pp. 125-146)

      In January 2002, the vice president of Supply Chain Operations at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) visited the fair trade coffee cooperative I was researching on the shores of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala.¹ The vice president traveled from Vermont to check on the progress of the cooperative’s construction of new drying patios in its wet mill, which was partially funded by a fifteen-thousand-dollar donation from GMCR. The visiting official explained to the cooperative’s president in heavily accented Spanish, “ We love the flavor of your coffee, but the most important thing is the coffee quality. Some people like a fruity...

    • 7 Fractured Ties: The Business of Development in Kenyan Fair Trade Tea
      (pp. 147-175)

      I stand in one of Kenya’s bustling marketplaces waiting for the fair trade representative.¹ In front of me a crowd of men is trading small bundles of the stimulantmiraawhile a discordant mix of hip hop emanates from the “miraa jets”—the Toyota pickups that wait to ferry this “green gold” to Nairobi and beyond. It is October—the rainy season—and the mud-covered landscape does not present the town in its best light. As I watch the camels of Somali traders crush the layer of wrappers and chewedmiraastems that line the roads, the town strikes me...

    • 8 Fair Trade Craft Production and Indigenous Economies: Reflections on “Acceptable” Indigeneities
      (pp. 176-198)

      This chapter examines the links between European constructions of indigenous “Others” through catalogues of material practices, and the implications of these cultural understandings for the design and implementation of indigenous artisan fair trade projects.¹ The vast majority of research on fair trade, as well as the bulk of fair trade activities, is oriented toward production of foodstuffs, coffee and chocolate leading the list; but artisan fair trade is a growing, although less clearly defined and regulated, area within this trade niche. Artisan fair trade relies on ethnic difference as a marketing device, where the “ cultural traditions” of indigenous peoples...


    • [Part III Introduction]
      (pp. 199-201)

      The final three case studies in this volume approach alternative trade from the vantage point of consumption. Despite the expanding range of certified fair trade commodities in recent years, most goods remain entirely outside fair trade networks. This applies even to those items (especially manufactured goods) involving great inequities in their production and sale. Faidra Papavasiliou examines concepts of “fairness” that animate alternative currency movements, drawing on the example of the HOURS system in Ithaca, New York. The HOURS alternative currency circulates in a market parallel to that of dollars, but it is geared exclusively to the consumption of local...

    • 9 Fair Money, Fair Trade: Tracing Alternative Consumption in a Local Currency Economy
      (pp. 202-228)

      In 1991, the town of Ithaca in upstate New York became a dual currency zone. A growing variety of goods and services, food, shelter, clothing, necessities, and luxuries, as well as labor, can also be exchanged with a kind of money other than the familiar, blue-green U.S. dollar. This currency, called the HOUR, to mark labor time, was not issued by any legal, financial, or political authority and was meant to circulate on a voluntary and consensual basis, parallel to the U.S. currency. Its exchange rate was determined somewhat arbitrarily to 1 HOUR = US$10, only later to be linked...

    • 10 Relationship Coffees: Structure and Agency in the Fair Trade System
      (pp. 229-257)

      In this chapter I explore the fair trade market in the U.S. Midwest as it is seen by activist students and coffee roasters, and in Mexico among professionals who market fair trade coffee and producers who sell to midwestern consumers. Many of these informants are involved in buying, selling, marketing, shipping, or producing the beans produced by Solidarity Coffee Cooperative in Chiapas, Mexico. Fair trade is a globally regulated system intended to build social-justice criteria into market transactions between core consumers and peripheral commodity producers (Raynolds et al. 2007). On its face, fair trade seems to offer a correction to...

    • 11 Novica, Navajo Knock-Offs, and the ’Net: A Critique of Fair Trade Marketing Practices
      (pp. 258-282)

      Recently, Networks, the newsletter of the Fair Trade Federation, quoted Gandhi: “Poverty is not only about a shortage of money. It is about rights and relationships; about how people are treated and how they regard themselves; about powerlessness, exclusion and loss of dignity. Yet the lack of adequate income is at its heart” (Morrison 2006). These words are apropos to the predicaments faced by thousands of Navajo weavers who have seen the demand for their rugs plummet in contrast to the massive escalation in knock-offs produced by weavers in Mexico and abroad.¹

      In aCultural Survival Quarterlyarticle published over...

    • 12 Naming Rights: Ethnographies of Fair Trade
      (pp. 283-298)

      Fair trade agendas and methods are various, but researchers have come to regard these initiatives as part of a rapidly expanding movement. Anthropologists are especially committed to examining these new forms of exchange in light of the discipline’s concerns about interactions among different societies, particularly smaller-scale groups that are increasingly challenged merely to survive, let alone to prosper, in the global economy. Such inquiries also reflect a longstanding anthropological interest in economic systems that are “alternative” to the present world market or linked to nonmarket traditions. Through a variety of ethnographic contexts and methods, the anthropological research presented in this...

  8. About the Contributors
    (pp. 299-300)
  9. Index
    (pp. 301-307)