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Fair Trade and Fair Trade Certification of Food and Agricultural Commodities: Promises, Pitfalls, and Possibilities

Debarati Sen and Sarasij Majumder

Keywords: agro-food networks; creative iterations of fair trade; ethical trade; fair trade certification; organic certification; politics of certification

Abstract

The global circulation of food and agricultural commodities is increasingly influenced by the ethical choices of Western consumers and activists who want to see a socially and environmentally sustainable trade regime in place. These desires have culminated in the formation of an elaborate system of rules, which govern the physical and social conditions of food production and circulation, reflected in transnational ethical regimes such as fair trade. Fair trade operates through certifying producer communities with sustainable production methods and socially just production relationships. By examining interdisciplinary academic engagements with fair trade, we argue that fair trade certification is a transnational bio-political regime; although, it holds the potential for reflecting global counterpolitics. By reviewing the literature on the emergence and history of fair trade certification, agro-food chains, case studies on certified producer communities and the certification process, this article shows that fair trade certification is a new governing mechanism to discipline farmers and producers in the Global South by drawing them into globalized market relationships. However, recent studies suggest that fair trade also leaves open the potential for creative iterations of the fair trade idea in producer communities to give voice to their situated struggles for justice. Thus, fair trade constitutes a contested moral terrain that mediates between the visions of justice harbored by producers and activists in the Global South and reflexive practices of the Western consumers. To map these critical developments around fair trade and fair trade certification, close ethnographic attention to the material and symbolic life of certification is vital.

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