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The Economics of Fair Trade: For Whose Benefit? An Investigation into the Limits of Fair Trade as a Development Tool and the Risk of Clean-Washing



This paper considers the system of fair trade coffee. It first gives a short description of the coffee market and some of its major trends. The origin of the fair trade movement is then explained. The structure of FLO is examined and its pricing scheme compared to those of other private labeling initiatives. Benefits generated for participants on the supply and the demand side then come under scrutiny. To gauge its potential as a development tool, revenues to coffee producers are estimated on the basis of available information. Revenues to fair trade organizations in the Western world are also examined. Finally, two hypotheses are tested on data from 13 European countries to get a better picture of what is happening on the demand side. First, an OLS regression is tested to see if consumer awareness does Òmake a differenceÓ. Secondly, a treatment regression is used to correct for a sample self-selection bias and to check if there is some support for the claim that supermarkets that have started to sell fair trade coffee are clean-washing their reputation in the fair trade business.

Suggested Citation

  • Pierre Kohler, 2006. "The Economics of Fair Trade: For Whose Benefit? An Investigation into the Limits of Fair Trade as a Development Tool and the Risk of Clean-Washing," IHEID Working Papers 06-2007, Economics Section, The Graduate Institute of International Studies, revised Oct 2006.
  • Handle: RePEc:gii:giihei:heiwp06-2007

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Krivonos, Ekaterina, 2004. "The impact of coffee market reforms on producer prices and price transmission," Policy Research Working Paper Series 3358, The World Bank.
    2. Morisset, Jacques, 1998. "Unfair Trade? The Increasing Gap between World and Domestic Prices in Commodity Markets during the Past 25 Years," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 12(3), pages 503-526, September.
    3. Becchetti, Leonardo & Solferino, Nazaria, 2005. "The dynamics of ethical product differentiation and the habit formation of socially responsible consumers," AICCON Working Papers 8-2005, Associazione Italiana per la Cultura della Cooperazione e del Non Profit.
    4. Michiel Kok & Richard Nahuis & Albert de Vaal, 2004. "On labour standards and free trade," The Journal of International Trade & Economic Development, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 13(2), pages 137-158.
    5. Giovannucci, Daniele & Koekoek, Freek Jan, 2003. "The State of Sustainable Coffee: A Study of Twelve Major Markets," MPRA Paper 17172, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    6. Fabrizio Adriani & Leonardo Becchetti, 2004. "Fair Trade: A 'Third Generation' Welfare Mechanism to Make Globalisation Sustainable," CEIS Research Paper 62, Tor Vergata University, CEIS.
    7. 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. Aye, Goodness C. & Dadam, Vincent & Gupta, Rangan & Mamba, Bonginkosi, 2014. "Oil price uncertainty and manufacturing production," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 43(C), pages 41-47.
    2. Leonardo Becchetti & Stefano Castriota & Melania Michetti, 2013. "The effect of fair trade affiliation on child schooling: evidence from a sample of Chilean honey producers," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 45(25), pages 3552-3563, September.
    3. Kang, Hyunsoo & Kennedy, P. Lynn, 2009. "Empirical Evidences from a Coffee Paradox: An Export Supply/Price Asymmetry Approach," Journal of Rural Development/Nongchon-Gyeongje, Korea Rural Economic Institute, vol. 32(3), July.
    4. Suphanit Piyapromdee & Russell Hillberry & Donald MacLaren, 2014. "‘Fair trade’ coffee and the mitigation of local oligopsony power," European Review of Agricultural Economics, Foundation for the European Review of Agricultural Economics, vol. 41(4), pages 537-559.
    5. Brigitte Granville, 2009. "Trust In Fairtrade: The 'Feel-Good' Effect," Working Papers 27, Queen Mary, University of London, School of Business and Management, Centre for Globalisation Research.
    6. Njindan Iyke, Bernard, 2016. "Real Output and Oil Price Uncertainty: Evidence from an Oil Producing Country," MPRA Paper 71307, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 01 Apr 2016.
    7. Leonardo Becchetti & Stefano Castriota, 2008. "Is Fair Trade Honey Sweeter? An empirical analysis on the effect of affiliation on productivity," Working Papers 104, ECINEQ, Society for the Study of Economic Inequality.

    More about this item


    Coffee; Fair Trade; Development; Clean-Washing; Treatment Regression;

    JEL classification:

    • C31 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Multiple or Simultaneous Equation Models; Multiple Variables - - - Cross-Sectional Models; Spatial Models; Treatment Effect Models; Quantile Regressions; Social Interaction Models
    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness
    • H23 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Externalities; Redistributive Effects; Environmental Taxes and Subsidies
    • M39 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Marketing and Advertising - - - Other

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