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Who decides what is fair in fair trade? The agri-environmental governance of standards, access, and price

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  • Bacon, Christopher M.

Abstract

The agri-environmental governance of value chains can favour a Polanyian double movement seeking social protection and control over price setting markets or it can advance a neoliberal logic that strives to overcome the few remaining civic and ecologic obstacles to full market dominance. Coupled with a typology that contrasts corporate social responsibility and social economy Fair Trade models, this theoretical framework elucidates positions in the current policy debates about the minimum coffee price standard. Many Southern smallholders consider Fair Trade's standards, which for coffee include direct market accesses for smallholder cooperatives, minimum prices, and environmental criteria, among the best deals available. The smallholder empowerment benefits are often better than competing eco-labels. However, this study finds that Fair Trade minimum prices lost 41 percent of their real value from 1988 to 2008. Despite objections from several 'market driven' firms and national labelling initiatives, smallholders' collective advocacy and this research contributed to the Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International's (FLO) decision to mandate a 7-11 percent minimum price increase. The price debates demonstrate that Fair Trade governance is neither purely neoliberal nor social movement led - it is a highly contested socially embedded practice. Voices without votes, North-South inequalities, and dwindling prices paid to its stated protagonists indicate the need for governance reform, cost of living price adjustments, and additional investment in the innovative alternative trade and hybrid models.

Suggested Citation

  • Bacon, Christopher M., 2010. "Who decides what is fair in fair trade? The agri-environmental governance of standards, access, and price," Center for Global, International and Regional Studies, Working Paper Series qt8px4f62v, Center for Global, International and Regional Studies, UC Santa Cruz.
  • Handle: RePEc:cdl:glinre:qt8px4f62v
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Barrientos, Stephanie & Dolan, Catherine & Tallontire, Anne, 2003. "A Gendered Value Chain Approach to Codes of Conduct in African Horticulture," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 31(9), pages 1511-1526, September.
    2. Bacon, Christopher, 2005. "Confronting the Coffee Crisis: Can Fair Trade, Organic, and Specialty Coffees Reduce Small-Scale Farmer Vulnerability in Northern Nicaragua?," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 33(3), pages 497-511, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Lindsay Naylor, 2014. "“Some are more fair than others”: fair trade certification, development, and North–South subjects," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 31(2), pages 273-284, June.
    2. Antje Wahl & Gary Bull, 2014. "Mapping Research Topics and Theories in Private Regulation for Sustainability in Global Value Chains," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 124(4), pages 585-608, November.
    3. Hallie Eakin & Catherine Tucker & Edwin Castellanos & Rafael Diaz-Porras & Juan Barrera & Helda Morales, 2014. "Adaptation in a multi-stressor environment: perceptions and responses to climatic and economic risks by coffee growers in Mesoamerica," Environment, Development and Sustainability: A Multidisciplinary Approach to the Theory and Practice of Sustainable Development, Springer, vol. 16(1), pages 123-139, February.
    4. Darryl Reed & Bob Thomson & Ian Hussey & Jean-Frédéric LeMay, 2010. "Developing a Normatively Grounded Research Agenda for Fair Trade: Examining the Case of Canada," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 92(2), pages 151-179, April.
    5. McCaffrey Sara Jane & Kurland Nancy, 2014. "Who defines “local”? Resistance to harmonizing standards in ethical markets," Business and Politics, De Gruyter, vol. 16(1), pages 191-219, April.
    6. Acquaye, Adolf A. & Yamoah, Fred A. & Feng, Kuishuang, 2015. "An integrated environmental and fairtrade labelling scheme for product supply chains," International Journal of Production Economics, Elsevier, vol. 164(C), pages 472-483.
    7. Jeroen Vos & Rutgerd Boelens, 2014. "Sustainability Standards and the Water Question," Development and Change, International Institute of Social Studies, vol. 45(2), pages 205-230, March.
    8. Bennett, Elizabeth A., 2017. "Who Governs Socially-Oriented Voluntary Sustainability Standards? Not the Producers of Certified Products," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 91(C), pages 53-69.
    9. Howard, Rebecca Joy & Tallontire, Anne & Stringer, Lindsay & Marchant, Rob, 2015. "Unraveling the Notion of “Fair Carbon”: Key Challenges for Standards Development," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 70(C), pages 343-356.
    10. Balineau, Gaëlle, 2013. "Disentangling the Effects of Fair Trade on the Quality of Malian Cotton," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 44(C), pages 241-255.
    11. Daniel Jaffee & Philip H. Howard, 2016. "Who’s the fairest of them all? The fractured landscape of U.S. fair trade certification," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 33(4), pages 813-826, December.
    12. Joni Valkila, 2014. "Do Fair Trade Pricing Policies Reduce Inequalities in Coffee Production and Trade?," Development Policy Review, Overseas Development Institute, vol. 32(4), pages 475-493, July.
    13. Juan Ignacio Staricco, 2016. "Fair Trade and the Fetishization of Levinasian Ethics," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 138(1), pages 1-16, September.
    14. Foran, Tira & Butler, James R.A. & Williams, Liana J. & Wanjura, Wolf J. & Hall, Andy & Carter, Lucy & Carberry, Peter S., 2014. "Taking Complexity in Food Systems Seriously: An Interdisciplinary Analysis," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 61(C), pages 85-101.
    15. Shannon Sutton, 2012. "Add Producers and Stir? (Re) politicizing Fairtrade participation," Working Papers 38, Queen Mary, University of London, School of Business and Management, Centre for Globalisation Research.
    16. repec:spr:agrhuv:v:34:y:2017:i:3:d:10.1007_s10460-016-9754-8 is not listed on IDEAS
    17. Parvathi, Priyanka & Waibel, Hermann, 2016. "Organic Agriculture and Fair Trade: A Happy Marriage? A Case Study of Certified Smallholder Black Pepper Farmers in India," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 77(C), pages 206-220.

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