MARY BETH FINCH
Northwestern University, US
The fair trade movement is a values-based consumer movement that strives to empower disadvantaged workers and promote more equitable international trade relations. It is based upon two central premises: on the one hand, unfettered capitalism leads to the exploitation of the most vulnerable participants in the global market; on the other hand, the market is the best avenue for improving the lives of disadvantaged workers. Fair trade is, thus, in the precarious and somewhat paradoxical position of being both “in and against the market.” Two primary goals of the movement are to create consumer demand for products made under nonexploitative conditions and to facilitate the process by which the workers who supply these products reach these consumers. Drawing upon Polanyi's analysis of market embeddedness (1944), fair trade can be understood as attempting to “re-embed” relationships between producers and consumers.
Though all proponents of fair trade aim to transform business practices and harness consumer power for the benefit of workers, there is no single definition of fair trade. The fair trade movement is a loosely organized system of advocacy groups, certifying organizations, producer groups, wholesalers, retailers, and religious organizations. The various groups have different concerns and interests and this shapes how each defines fair trade. Granted, there is widespread agreement that ...