Fair trade is often described as the flip-side of free trade -- emphasizing the suspension of market economics, ostensibly to benefit disadvantaged farmers and laborers in developing parts of the world.
This volume traces the fair trade (or fairtrade) movement to the 1988 creation of a Dutch brand, Max Havelaar, named after a fictional colonial reformer, immediately evoking first-world, middle-class guilt. Today, the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation (FLO) regulates the designation, which represents demonstrated sustainability, fair labor practices including democratic decision-making and the prohibition of child or forced labor, and environmentally sound agricultural practices. In return, the fairtrade certification nets the producer prices above market value.
But do labor conditions described as "slavery light" justify the premium, especially given that, by all accounts, fair trade farmers only make pennies more than if they were selling on the open market? And as multinationals like Nestle and Starbucks start using fair trade suppliers, they start benefiting from the association even though, as article collected here emphasize, only a very small percentage of their goods have fair trade origins. This is described as the "halo effect". There is no denying the romance of small-scale production, but it is hard to argue that fair trade is in fact boutique or niche when it can be represented by WalMart bananas. The volume presents some of the hyperbole that underpins the arguments against the corporations entering the fair trade market, revealing the anxieties that large corporations will eventually challenge the effective suspension of price competition and change the fair trade market in negative ways. Calls for corporate sincerity by stocking their entire establishments with all-or-nothing fair trade merchandise seems a little unrealistic, as do contentions that fair trade is inherently flawed because it benefits only a small number of farmers overall. There are also those who believe that plantation-scale agriculture is, by definition, not something certifiable by the FLO
Like all of Greenhaven’s Current Controversies series, this volume is organized "for controlled research". The book has four thematic sections, each with an introduction framing the articles within. There is a list of organizations to contact, bibliography of books and periodicals and an index.
Perhaps because the fair trade issue has a much higher profile in the U.K., where the majority of consumers say they considered fair trade status when making purchases, many of the articles originate from the British press, including The Times, The Telegraph, and The Guardian. Other content is taken from the The Wall Street Journal, Socialist Appeal, Fast Company, Washington Post, and CNN.com. Some articles are taken from Web sites with world affairs and environmental affiliations as well. Recommended for school libraries as an excellent resource for environmentally-aware students pushing beyond the usual ecological topics or to support economics curricula with a globalization or social consciousness-slant.