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The Fairtrade movement is a group of businesses claiming to trade ethically. The claims are evaluated, under a range of criteria derived from the Utilitarian ethic. Firstly, if aid or charity money is diverted from the very poorest people to the quite poor, or the rich, there is an increase in death and destitution. It is shown that little of the extra paid by consumers for Fairtrade reaches farmers, sometimes none. It cannot be shown that it has a positive impact on Fairtrade farmers in general, but evidence suggesting it harms others is presented. Many of the weaknesses are due to an attempt to impose political views on farmers and others. Secondly, the unfair trading criteria require that sellers do not lie about their product, nor withhold information that might alter the decisions of a substantial proportion of buyers. It is argued that the system only can exist because of the failure of the Fairtrade industry to give the facts on what happens to the money and what it can be proved it achieves. This unfair trading compromises the reputation of charities in general. Much of the trading may constitute the criminal offence of Unfair Trading in the EU. KeywordsFairtrade–Fair trade–Ethical trading–Third world marketing–Agricultural and food marketing
Ethical objections to
Peter Griffiths
Published by the Journal of Business Ethics July 2011
The final publication is available at
(DOI) 10.1007/s10551-011-0972-0
The Fairtrade movement is a group of businesses claiming to trade ethically. The
claims are evaluated, under a range of criteria derived from the Utilitarian ethic.
Firstly, if aid or charity money is diverted from the very poorest people to the quite
poor, or the rich, there is an increase in death and destitution. It is shown that little
of the extra paid by consumers for Fairtrade reaches farmers, sometimes none. It
cannot be shown that it has a positive impact on Fairtrade farmers in general, but
evidence suggesting it harms others is presented. Many of the weaknesses are due
to an attempt to impose political views on farmers and others.
Secondly, the unfair trading criteria require that sellers do not lie about
their product, nor withhold information that might alter the decisions of a
substantial proportion of buyers. It is argued that the system only can exist because
of the failure of the Fairtrade industry to give the facts on what happens to the
money and what it can be proved it achieves. This unfair trading compromises the
reputation of charities in general.
Much of the trading may constitute the criminal offence of Unfair Trading in
the EU.
This study analyses the claim that Fairtrade is ethical trading. It starts with a brief
outline of Fairtrade. It sets out the basic ethical criteria to be used. These are expanded
and extended as fuller details of the operation of Fairtrade are presented. This analysis
covers only Fairtrade and not the other systems whose participants think of themselves
as Fair Trade (two words).
Fairtrade is a commercial brand. Its owners, the Fairtrade Foundation, have been
very successful in persuading customers that it does ‘ethical trading’, and that by
buying Fairtrade goods they are giving producers a fair price, dealing fairly with them,
and giving money to poor producers in the Third World. It has had considerable
support from grassroots to ministerial level, and has received gifts of time, money,
marketing and preferential trading opportunities from private individuals, firms and
public bodies. The retail turnover in the UK alone was £799m in 2009.
For a fee, the Fairtrade Foundation gives companies in the developed world
coffee processors and packers or supermarket chains for instance a licence to use the
brand (with the Fairtrade brand being displayed on their own branded goods). 85% of
the income of the UK Fairtrade Foundation income comes from this, with the
remaining 14% coming from donations and government grants (Fairtrade UK, 2009). At
least 70% of this licence income is spent in the UK, mainly on promoting the brand. The
accounts are not clear on how or where the rest is spent, but it appears to be spent by
the Fairtrade organization, some of it for administration and control of standards by
the international umbrella organization, The Fairtrade Labelling Organizations
International, rather than being given to farmers in the Third World. Licensees use the
Fairtrade brand in addition to the normal commercial brand, not as a substitute.
Licensees and retailers do marketing and advertising both for their own brand
Fairtrade and for Fairtrade in general. They benefit in three ways: they can charge a
higher margin; they expect higher turnover; and they can launder their image,
becoming perceived as a fair organization helping the Third World.
The money intended for the Third World is an entirely separate income stream,
which does not pass through the Fairtrade organization. The product must be
produced by Fairtrade-certified suppliers in the Third World, nearly always members of
a marketing cooperative, but plantation companies for a few products. These suppliers
must meet a range of political standards to be certified. For coffee, the flagship
product, there are typically several levels involved: the farmers themselves, the
primary cooperatives which do the assembly and processing, and the secondary or
tertiary cooperatives which export on behalf of the primary cooperatives. The
exporting cooperative is paid a price 10c a pound higher than the world price for any
coffee that, first, meets the Fairtrade standards and, second, is sold with the Fairtrade
brand. The higher price is termed the ‘social premium’ and may be spent by the
exporting cooperative on business expenses including the costs of meeting Fairtrade
standards, or on social projects like health, education or constructing baseball fields.
Some cooperatives pass on cash to farmers, giving them a higher price. A significant
aspect is the minimum price, which gives the exporting cooperatives a price above the
world price when the world price collapses, as it does from time to time. These price
commitments apply to the exporting cooperatives only, not to the primary
cooperatives or to farmers, and they cover only goods sold under the Fairtrade brand,
which may be a small part of the product meeting the standards, and a small part of
the cooperative’s turnover.
This analysis covers the Fairtrade system as a whole, from farmer to consumer,
including cooperatives, importers, packers, wholesalers, supermarkets and cafes. It
covers the Fairtrade Foundation UK (the system may operate differently in other rich
countries) and the umbrella organization, the Fairtrade Labelling Organizations
International. It also covers those advocates of Fairtrade who do not have any financial
interest in it, but give money, time, effort, and preferential trading opportunities to it
and who publicize it. These include firms, politicians, public servants and teachers.
The ethical approach used here is the Utilitarian one of the greatest good for the
greatest number, as is normal in dealing with public money. This uses the hedonic
calculus, applying resources where they produce the greatest marginal utility. Two sets
of ethical criteria are derived from the Utilitarian principles which will be used
throughout the analysis. They are set out in this section, but they will be expanded on,
and new criteria will be identified, as more information is presented.
The first set derives from the fact that there will be an increase in death and
destitution if money or resources intended for the very poorest people are diverted to
people who are less poor or relatively rich. A very poor person who is made £5 worse
off may not be able to buy a mosquito net or buy enough food to keep the children
alive in the hungry season before the harvest. A less poor person losing £5 may suffer
only not being able to buy batteries for a radio or to visit relatives. And the
shareholders of a supermarket in a rich country may not notice £5 more or less. This is
standard economics. These criteria mean that it is not sufficient to prove that some
farmers benefit from Fairtrade: any meaningful analysis must also cover other
Fairtrade farmers, and non-Fairtrade farmers.
These criteria are applied at two levels: it is asked whether the money should be
given to Fairtrade at all, and it is asked whether, once the money has been given to
Fairtrade, it is spent in such a way as to maximize its impact. The criteria may be
applied by comparing the impact of Fairtrade with the impact of alternative ways of
delivering aid or charity to the Third World, using as a standard either giving money
directly to a Third World government or giving it to one of those charities which
guarantees that all donations are spent in the Third World. One widely used approach
is to state on the label exactly how much of the price reaches Third World
communities. Formally, those low-cost:high-impact aid interventions with a payoff of
thousands to one are also an alternative.
The second set of criteria, Unfair Trading, includes two relevant principles: that it
is unethical to lie to a customer about a product and it is unethical to fail to give
consumers important information about a product, information that is likely to cause
the average consumer to make a different purchasing decision. Under the Utilitarian
approach it is wrong because it is a way of facilitating the allocation of money in a way
that increases death and destitution, as in the first criterion a derived wrong.
Secondly, there is the cost when donors realize that their money has been used for
purposes that they had not intended. Thirdly, the use of lies and suppression of
evidence damages the efficiency of markets, and can collapse them entirely, causing
widespread public harm. To the extent that this happens in the charitable sector, there
is a risk that the public will stop giving money to any charity. And risk is an economic
cost. This is recognized by legislators: both lying and failing to give relevant information
to customers would constitute the criminal offence of Unfair Trading throughout the
EU under Directive 2005/29/EC on Unfair Commercial Practices (European Commission,
2005). While I refer to these regulations from time to time, I would emphasize that
only the courts can interpret them, and decide what practices are unfair, and whether
it is, for example, the retailer, the wholesaler, the manufacturer or the brand owner
who commits the offence. However, the fact that a practice may not be a criminal
offence does not mean it is ethical.
With Fairtrade, as with charity Christmas cards or free range eggs, customers pay
a higher price in the belief that nearly all the extra will go to the intended beneficiaries.
The Fairtrade Foundation’s basic guarantee is, ‘A fair and stable price to farmers for
their products’ (Fairtrade Foundation, 2011). A reasonable consumer might assume
from this that 80%, say, of the extra amount paid went in higher prices to the farmers,
in such a way as to get the greatest good for the greatest number. This section
examines what actually happens to the money. First it asks how much reaches the
exporting cooperative, half way up the marketing chain. Then it asks what happens to
this money: how much goes in added costs to the Fairtrade cooperatives; how much is
spent on social projects; how much goes in extra money to Fairtrade farmers; and what
harm is caused to non-Fairtrade farmers. To the extent that the money does not reach
the intended beneficiaries, there is an increase in Death and Destitution. To the extent
that consumers are not given information that might change their decision to buy
Fairtrade, there is Unfair Trading, which is unethical.
How much gets to the exporting Cooperative?
In practice, retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers are free to charge whatever
they wish for Fairtrade products. Fairtrade does not monitor or control how much
extra they charge. It is almost never possible for a customer to determine how much
extra is charged, because retailers almost never sell identical Fairtrade and non-
Fairtrade products side by side. There are differences in brand, quality, origin, etc.
which make price comparisons impossible.1 There is no shortage of evidence that
consumers are willing to pay more for Fairtrade coffee, and it would be surprising if
retailers did not price accordingly.
Very occasionally it is possible to calculate how much extra is paid. One of the
largest British café chains let it be known that they were charging 10p a cup extra for
Fairtrade coffee, which made it possible to calculate that less than 1% of the extra price
reached the Third World exporter. That is to say customers would have achieved at
least 100 times as much if they had given the 10p to a reputable charity instead of
buying Fairtrade. Valkila, Haaparanta and Niemi (2010, p. 266) were able to get
information not normally available on coffee sales, and found that consumers in
Finland paid considerably more for Fairtrade certified coffee than for alternatives, but
that only 11.5% of the extra paid went to the exporting country. The amount reaching
the farmer is not calculated. Kilian, Jones, Pratt and Villalobos (2006) talk of US
Fairtrade coffee getting $5 per lb extra at retail, of which the exporting cooperative
would have received 10c, or 2%. Mendoza and Bastiaensen (2003, p. 38) calculated
that in the UK only 1.6% to 18% of the extra charged for Fairtrade reached the
producers for one product line. It would take a great deal of evidence to show that
these figures are not typical or at least common. However, there is no prospect of the
evidence becoming available, as it would require retailers, wholesalers, packers and
importers to expose their business to independent examination by forensic
accountants and economists.
Fairtrade’s own figures do not suggest that these figures would be unusual.
Calculations from figures produced by Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International
(2010) show that on average 1.53 percent of the retail price reaches the Third World as
extra payment from Fairtrade membership 52m Euros from sales of 3.2 billion.
However, they do not give sources for their figures, and figures for previous years are
1 One UK Sainsbury superstore, in November 2010, had 76 product lines for coffee and 53 product
lines for Fairtrade coffee. The most expensive coffee was nearly four times the price of the cheapest,
£21.20 per kg, compared with £5.36. Many of the more expensive lines were Fairtrade. Some of the
objective characteristics were stated, such as organic, Arabica, produced in Costa Rica, but there was no
indication of most of them. Most of them would have been blends of at least half a dozen different
qualities and different growths, produced by different suppliers.
not available. The figures for the total cost of Fairtrade organizations, world wide and
nationally, and the amount reaching the Third World, nationally and in total, should be
readily available, but are not. It is possible to make rough calculations from what
information is available, assuming that Fairtrade UK is typical of the national
organizations (as all national organizations are subject to the same system and collect
the same fees). It appears that the cost of operating the Fairtrade organizations in the
rich countries is of the order of 75% to 100% of the gross amount of extra money
reaching the Third World. There are also some unavoidable costs to processors,
wholesalers and retailers in handling Fairtrade. That is to say, the absolute maximum
proportion of the donations reaching the Third World would be 50% to 60%, in an ideal
world where nobody charged higher mark-ups. This is consistent with the fact that
Fairtrade charges wholesalers a fee of 3%, and 1.53% of the retail price reaches
exporters as extra payment. These proportions would be considered unacceptably low
by many donors.
That is to say much of the extra price paid, the donation, goes as extra profit in
rich countries, which is unethical under the Death and Destitution criteria, and there is
a failure to disclose this, which is unethical under the Unfair Trading criteria.
For a product like a garment made of Fairtrade cotton, the system is even more
opaque. How much extra does one pay for a dress made with Fairtrade cotton? How
much Fairtrade cotton is in the dress? How much of the extra goes to the exporter?
Even if I had been able to find an explanation of Fairtrade cotton on the Fairtrade
website, I could not have made the calculation.
Failure to pay the Fairtrade price
The calculations on how much of the extra price reaches the Third World
exporters have been made on the assumption that the exporters receive the full export
price. However, products may be fraudulently marketed as Fairtrade when they are
not. Some traders say that control is inadequate: a pre-announced visit by a Fairtrade
accountant every five or six years is not likely to pick this up. It would be prohibitively
expensive to monitor all the cafes and restaurants claiming to sell Fairtrade.
Some buyers pay the licence fee, but do not pay the exporters the money that
they are obliged to if they are to call the product Fairtrade. The Fairtrade system
requires importers to
1. Pay the minimum price set by Fairtrade,
2. Pay a premium price,
3. Provide credit for prefinancing so that Fairtrade cooperatives can pay
cash on delivery,
4. Enter into long-term contracts.
Companies are in a position to say, ‘We will buy your Fairtrade coffee but we will pay
you less than the proper price. If you refuse, we will buy from another Fairtrade
cooperative, and you will have to sell at an even lower price, the world commodity
price. As you know, there is three times as much Fairtrade certified coffee available as
the market will take.’ It is difficult for the cooperative to refuse. There is evidence that
companies do this, sometimes paying the full Fairtrade price, but demanding a higher
quality (Raynolds, 2009, p. 1089; Valkila, Haaparanta, & Niemi, 2010, p. 264; Valkila,
2009). There is also a failure to provide the credit. Importers may pay cash on delivery,
or pay late, or just not honour their contracts if world prices move against them.
(Utting, 2009, p. 139; Valkila, 2009, pp. 3022-3; Raynolds, 2009, p. 1089). The
mainstream traders sometimes provide better credit to farmers at significantly lower
interest rates (Valkila, 2009, pp. 3022-3). The Fairtrade requirements on long term
contracts are not strictly enforced (Reed, 2009, pp. 12, 21).
These evasions are mentioned by some of the most enthusiastic supporters of
Fairtrade, but they do not give details or discuss them, and appear not to have
investigated them to find out how common they are. This is surprising as the evasions
could make the whole system unworkable.
The ethical problems raised are, first, the failure to control these problems
effectively, second, the failure to admit to the problems, and, third, adopting a system
where these problems arise they do not arise with normal charity to the Third World.
Ethical implications
It has been shown that a small amount of the extra amount that consumers pay
for Fairtrade gets even as far as the exporter. In a few cases it may be as much as half;
in many cases it is much less. Much of the extra price paid, the donation, goes either in
higher profit in rich countries, or in the Fairtrade organizations’ administration costs
and their cost of collecting donations. This is unethical under the Death and Destitution
It is likely that Fairtrade sales would be much lower if this were known by
consumers. However, the extra amount consumers pay for Fairtrade products is almost
universally concealed by retailers and the costs of the Fairtrade organizations and the
amount reaching the Third World has not been disclosed. This is Unfair Trading and is
unethical. The criterion that relevant information should not be concealed requires
that a pack of Fairtrade coffee, say, should have the label ‘This pack costs 50p [say]
more than an equivalent pack of non-Fairtrade coffee. A maximum of 3.4p of this
reaches the Third World.’
Even those retailers who feel that they, and their supply chain, are beyond
reproach, and that it is acceptable that only half the extra money paid reaches the
Third World in their particular operation, are under an ethical obligation to give this
information. If they were to disclose their figures, they would put pressure on others to
do the same, so there would no longer be firms pocketing 90% to 99% of the extra
price charged.
Similarly all charities have to publish their accounts. Many reputable ones publish
them in great detail: they hope to drive out those charities that spend nearly all their
revenue on collecting more revenue, that spend almost nothing on the intended
beneficiaries, that are incompetent, and that are dishonest. That is to say they are
acting according to the Ethical Trading criteria. Fairtrade, on the other hand, has been
set up in such a way that most of the money donated does not even enter their
accounting system, and it is not possible to find out what it is spent on.
How much reaches the farmer?
Fairtrade monitors the price paid to exporters. It does not control what happens
to the money, nor does it monitor how much reaches the farmer. There can be no
evidence for the claim, ‘Fairtrade guarantees a fair price for the producer’.
Some of the extra money is spent on meeting the Fairtrade criteria for
certification, sometimes a large proportion (Utting, 2009, p. 139; Valkila and Nygren,
2009; Valkila, 2009, pp. 3022-3; Berndt, 2007). The exporting cooperatives, the primary
cooperatives and the farmers all have to reach these criteria. They have to meet the
criteria for all they produce, whatever proportion they manage to sell as Fairtrade
branded. Obviously they would prefer to sell all they produce at the higher Fairtrade
price, but the world market for the brand is about a third of the quantity produced, so
two thirds is sold, unbranded, at the commodity price (Kilian, Jones, Pratt, & Villalobos,
2006). Some cooperatives struggle to sell 10% to 15% of their total production as
Fairtrade, so their added costs are higher than their added income. Nothing is left for
social projects or for the farmers. Presumably they hope to sell more in future and
make a profit. Others manage to sell most of their output as Fairtrade so the social
premium is higher than the extra costs, but even here the cooperative management
may say, ‘It’s not worth the trouble, Fairtrade.’’ (Berndt, 2007, p. 27)
This gets some support from Fairtrade’s own figures (Fairtrade Labelling
Organizations International, 2010). Calculations show that 40% of the premium
reaching the Third World goes on business and production, rather than on social
projects or extra price to the farmer.
Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International figures do not show that any
money goes to farmers. Workers on Fairtrade plantations may do no better: tea
workers in Kenya and India may get a thermos flask every few years as their payoff
from Fairtrade (Bahra, 2009a) (Bahra, 2009b). However, researchers suggest that some
farmers have demanded to receive cash, rather than have the money put into
underperforming social projects.
Some Fairtrade employees claim that Fairtrade Labelling Organizations
International is wrong. Martin Hill, Director of Commercial Relations, Fairtrade
Foundation UK, spoke at the European Coffee Symposium (2009), and said that all the
Fairtrade Premium was passed on to farmers at farm gate - not just to the cooperative
exporter, nor spent on business and production expenses, or on social projects.
Is cooperative marketing efficient?
The possibility must be considered that the Fairtrade export cooperative gets a
higher price than other exporters do, but cooperative marketing is so inefficient that
the producers would get a lower price, even if nothing was spent on social projects.
This is of fundamental importance as nearly all Fairtrade producers are compelled to
sell through their cooperative and cannot switch to another buyer without losing their
Fairtrade status.
Much of the Fairtrade literature claims that alternative marketing systems are
inefficient and pay farmers less than they should, and cheat them. It then claims or
implies that these problems will vanish with Fairtrade and cooperatives, which is a non
sequitur. The Fairtrade literature does not refer to the standard literature on
agricultural marketing which confirms that all marketing systems are inefficient in
some ways and have some cheating, and that some systems are terrible, but presents
tried and tested ways of investigating and reforming them. These reforms are
examples of low-cost:high-impact aid, where an input of two or three person-months
may double or quadruple the net cash income of millions of farmers producing
payoffs higher than the whole of Fairtrade. Marketing economists have to keep
pointing out the facts. Marketing is more expensive than growing the crop and takes
more skill. Where there are many traders competing, it is unlikely that they are in a
ring, conspiring to reduce producer prices. The fact that there are many layers of
middlemen does not imply unnecessarily high marketing costs; on the contrary, the
many, small, specialized, flexible traders produce a product that is cheap and reliable
if this were not so, the large monolithic traders which handle all levels from farmer to
supermarket would have forced them out of business. Cooperatives are traders which
carry out the same marketing functions as other traders and these functions cost
money. They have the same problems with dishonest scale operators, graders and
buyers. The fact that they have a different ownership does not imply that they are
lower in cost. The market does not operate in a markedly different manner because
some of the traders are owned in this way. Nor do cooperative members necessarily
have any more control than shareholders of other firms.
There has been an enormous amount of research on agricultural cooperatives in
the last hundred years, by the government departments supervising them, by aid
agencies and by academics. The experience is that when rich capitalist farmers set up
marketing cooperatives and employ professional managers, they can be very
successful. When small farmers who are ill-educated and have no business experience
set up cooperatives, serious problems are common, even when professional managers
are employed it is easy for an educated clique to take over, and they, or the
managers, can easily cheat illiterate and innumerate farmers. These problems do arise
with Fairtrade cooperatives: see for example Utting, (2009, p. 140), Jones & Bayley,
(2000), Mendoza & J. Bastiaensen, (2003), and Berndt, (2007). When, in addition, the
cooperative has political objectives, problems are normal.
One example of research showing the problems with Fairtrade cooperatives is
Mendoza & J. Bastiaensen (2003, p. 42).
A more detailed analysis [of a Nicaraguan Fairtrade Cooperative]
reveals that the disadvantage is mainly the result of higher administrative costs;
to a lesser degree disadvantageous access to local financial services also plays its
role (Mendoza, 2002, p.349). The crucial weakness in terms of administration
costs is directly related to the co-operative model, which compares unfavourably
with the decentralized brokerage system of the commercial network of
intermediaries and local traders. The co-operative structure involves an
expensive, top-heavy entrepreneurial hierarchy, including a large administrative
staff and substantial representation costs for its leaders (12 in the case of
Prodecoop). The administrative inefficiencies of such co-ops can be very serious:
the Empresa Cooperativa de Cafetaleros Organicos de Nicaragua (ECOCOONIC), a
quite promising co-operative of organic coffee producers with a turnover of 88
000 tonne/year, went bankrupt in the 1990s due to the administrative
inefficiency of the co-operative model’
Cooperatives have received enormous support from governments, donors, and
NGOs over the years, in the form of cash, management support and market
opportunities, but they have failed to maintain their market share, which suggests that
they cannot always compete with normal traders.
The fact that cooperatives’ accounts are audited does not mean they are honest:
virtually all firms’ accounts are. Any accounting firm that blows the whistle on
corruption is likely to lose its clients very quickly. It is possible to analyse the operations
of cooperatives to identify corruption and inefficiency, but in my experience it is
physically dangerous, as exemplified my personal experience where the manager of an
agricultural cooperative ‘just looked me in the eye and said, “Mr Griffiths. In this
country, you can get a man killed for $150 - Jamaican.”’ (Griffiths, 2003, p. 205).
Researchers are seldom trained to do this sort of forensic accounting investigation.
Ethical problems arise when they are reluctant to print their findings because of the
law of libel, and because neither they nor their colleagues will get access to
cooperatives or other firms for future research, if academics start exposing corruption.
Inevitably some cooperatives are less efficient than some traders and pay lower
prices, and some Fairtrade cooperatives are less efficient than other, non-Fairtrade,
cooperatives. Fairtrade farmers have to stick with their cooperative, even if it is failing,
while other farmers can switch to whoever pays the best price. This suggests that one
should leave it to farmers to decide which buyer offers the best deal. The failure to do
so is a design fault.
Do Fairtrade farmers get higher prices?
Do Fairtrade farmers get higher prices? The Fairtrade Foundation’s basic
guarantee ‘A fair and stable price to farmers for their products’ (Fairtrade Foundation,
2011) implies that they do. If this were so, cooperatives would manage to pay higher
prices in spite of spending most of the extra money on certification costs, business
expenses, social projects and inefficient marketing. Even this would not necessarily
mean that Fairtrade farmers benefited, with a higher net cash income, as they have to
spend some of their revenue on paying the costs of conformity higher expenditure on
employed labour for instance. Fairtrade does not monitor the costs to the farmer of
achieving Fairtrade certification, and I have not found any study of these.
Many anecdotes show that traders paid a higher price to farmers than Fairtrade
cooperatives did, or that Fairtrade cooperatives paid a higher price, but very few of
these anecdotes have any evidential value as they do not allow for the well-known
practical and conceptual problems of collecting and analysing agricultural prices as
described by Bowbrick (1988) for instance. Some examples of the problems that arise
with the flagship product, coffee, will show the problems.
A single ‘headline’ price is quoted when there is a wide range of prices on the
market. Traders may choose to compare their price for specialty coffees with the
Fairtrade price for standard grades, while Fairtrade supporters may compare their price
for the highest quality organic coffee with the traders’ price for the very lowest
qualities. In principle, one would like to compare the weighted average price for the
mix of qualities produced on a ‘representative’ farm, but this begs the question of what
is representative, especially since Fairtrade and non-Fairtrade farmers typically
produce a different quality mix. And, of course, the mix of prices which is best for one
producer may not be the best for others.
Coffee may be sold in different forms such as fresh cherry which would be
processed by the trader or cooperative, as dry beans needing further processing, as
parchment, etc. The price per pound is very different, even when the price of the final
exported product, green coffee, is identical. Similar variations exist for most products.
In economics and marketing it is normal to talk of the price package of which
the headline price, the cash payment, is just one component. For example, transport to
the buying centre or factory, bags, inputs, sprays, and credit may be provided free, in
which case the headline price is low. An important part of the price package is the
availability and price of production credit and the promptness of payment when the
crop is delivered. The cooperatives may pay a higher headline price, and then make
deductions. Traders buying tree crops may buy under a range of contracts, including a
payment per tree at the beginning of the season, with the trader doing some or all of
the fertilizing, pruning, spraying, picking, packing, transport and processing, as well as
taking all the risks of crop failure and price changes. In this case, de facto, the trader is
the farmer and the peasant is the landlord. Farmers may quote any of these prices in a
survey, and questionnaires should be designed to allow for the possibility that they
quote prices that show they are being paid low prices. Typically traders and
cooperatives will have different headline prices even if the price package is identical.
Anecdotes frequently compare prices at different levels of the chain.2 It is formally
impossible to calculate the ‘real’ price by regression, etc.
Cooperatives typically average prices over a season, so they pay less than traders
at some times of the year, more at others. Their members are always tempted to sell
to traders at some periods, so not much can be read into frequent reports that this
happens. A further complication is that cooperatives may average prices over a season,
and have returns based on long-term contracts with buyers, sales on the futures
markets, or the actual prices when the product is shipped to Britain and sold there
some time months later. They commonly pay part of the price on delivery, with added
payments as they get export returns, so the payment at any time may refer to
deliveries made in previous crop years. Traders are more likely to base prices on spot
markets, and may even pay a spot price with the proviso that there will be a further
2 One web page says that farmers ‘are often forced to sell to middlemen who pay
them half the market price, generally between 30-50c per pound. Fairtrade coffee sells for a
minimum of $1.26 per pound.’ (Organic Consumers Association, 2007) This comparison is
flagrantly dishonest. The Fairtrade price quoted here is the New York price. The other price
is the price paid in a village in the middle of Africa. Both the independent middlemen and
the Fairtrade middlemen have to pay the costs of assembly, processing, marketing and
transport, as well as the export tax, so both pay the farmer much less than the New York
payment if world prices rise later. Again, the date at which prices are compared is
Many academic researchers refer to traders and middlemen as ‘coyotes’3 a
pejorative term. The same researchers admit, without apparently noticing the
contradiction, that private traders play an essential role in the market: they buy a
range of products that the cooperatives do not handle; they buy qualities of coffee,
say, that cooperatives refuse to handle (and, again, farmers have to sell all they
produce to survive); they provide credit, sometimes at lower interest rates than the
cooperative; they pay higher prices at times; they pay promptly, not at the end of the
season; they provide an alternative outlet when cooperatives become too corrupt, so
that farmers are not at the mercy of a single monopsonistic buyer. And the farmers
often choose to sell to them rather than to the cooperative. These are all part of the
price package, so the ‘coyotes’ are providing an important market and range of services
even to those farmers who sell mainly to Fairtrade cooperatives.
A higher price does not necessarily mean a higher income to farmers. When most
production of organic coffee is by members of Fairtrade cooperatives and the price of
organic coffee is higher, then Fairtrade cooperatives pay a higher headline price.
However, organic coffee has higher costs of production and lower yields, so, in some
countries, organic farmers got substantially lower net cash incomes in spite of the
higher headline price (Kilian, Jones, Pratt, & Villalobos, 2006, p. 327; Valkila, 2009;
Wilson, 2009).
Bassett (2009) found that Fairtrade and non-Fairtrade cotton growers had to sell
to the same ginnery, as it had a locational monopsony, and that the ginneries were in a
national cartel, so neither group got a fair price.
The conclusion is that there is no evidence that Fairtrade farmers get a higher
price than non-Fairtrade. There is no evidence that Fairtrade farmers get a fair price.
Ethical implications
Again, the implication is that there is an increase in Death and Destitution, both
because of money intended for farmers not reaching them, and because donors give
money to Fairtrade rather than to charities that deliver higher proportions of the
donations. Again there is Unfair Trading, both in the unsupported claims that Fairtrade
farmers get higher prices and that they get a fair price, as well as in the suppression of
3 e.g. (Lyon, 2009, p. 230) (Garza & Cervantes, 2002, p. 15), (Cabañas, 2002, pp. 3,19,22,24,29),
(Aranda & Morales, 2002, p. 15), (Boersma F. V., 2002, pp. 6,8,20), (Lyon, 2002, pp. 4,21,23,31),
(Escalante, 2001), (Mendez, 2002, p. 20), (Taylor, 2002, p. 2), (Milford, 2004, pp. 49,52,55,58), (Ruben,
Fort, & Zuniga-Arias, 2009), (Murray, Raynolds, & Taylor, 2003, p. 7), (Johannesen, 2008, pp.
What happens to the rest of the money
Any extra money not spent on achieving certification and business expenses may
be spent on social projects. Some of the social projects are building local schools,
clinics, or baseball fields. Some of the projects are community (44% of expenditure on
social projects), education (14%), environment (1%), health (10%), women’s
programmes (5%) and others (25%) (Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International,
2010). It is acceptable within the Fairtrade ethos that all the extra money is spent in
this way and that none is passed on to farmers.
Fairtrade does not control what the cooperatives do with the money or measure
its impact. There is almost no published information by researchers on what extra
money individual cooperatives get, and how much money they spend on each activity.
There have been very few attempts at measuring the impact but, even if one ignores
the methodological problems with these (which are discussed in a later section), it is
not possible to take a tiny number of case studies of selected successful cooperatives,
nearly all producing coffee, and to generalize the results to 3000 producers supplying
thousands of products.
There is no reason to assume that projects organized by cooperatives will have a
greater impact than ones delivered by those aid organizations or governments which
have a strong professional skill base, backup, resources and experience. Most aid
projects also have economies of scale as they aim to help all farmers in a district,
province, or country, not just the few hundred Fairtrade farmers. Agricultural
economics and marketing interventions at sector level, industry level or crop level, for
instance, typically help millions of people, and can be low-cost:high-impact. The
Fairtrade projects are not low-cost:high-impact. There is a worry that the benefits of
social projects may accrue mainly to the families of committee members and managers
of the exporting cooperative, less to the families of committee members and managers
of primary cooperatives, and least to the farmers.
Ethical implications
This section has shown Unfair Trading. The label should have another sentence,
‘We have no evidence that any of the extra money you pay will produce any benefit to
farmers’. It shows that the Fairtrade Foundation’s basic guarantee ‘A fair and stable
price to farmers for their products’ (Fairtrade Foundation, 2011) is not, and cannot be,
supported by the evidence.
Fairtrade harms non-Fairtrade farmers
Fairtrade claims to help Third World farmers. If it harms any farmers while it is
helping others, it certainly achieves less than it claims, and it may have the net overall
effect of harming Third World farmers. The harm is aggravated if the farmers harmed
are poorer than the farmers helped. Under the first set of criteria, this would be
unethical, increasing Death and Destitution. Under the Unfair Trade criteria, Fairtrade
is unethical if it does not tell consumers just who it is helping and who it is harming,
and if it does not say whether the net impact is positive or negative.
Any impact study is meaningless if it does not take into account the possibility
that the Fairtrade farmers studied in a case study are better off solely because
Fairtrade chose to work with farmers who were already better off, or because Fairtrade
harmed the other farmers.
Fairtrade helps the richer farmers
Fairtrade concentrates its efforts on relatively rich farmers. Importers buy from
the cooperatives that are efficient and can provide the qualities required at the time
required and handle the paperwork. Inevitably the most healthy, skilful, educated
farmers are most likely to do this, and they are the richest. The cooperatives with these
farmers find it easier to meet the criteria of Fairtrade, to do the paperwork required
and to make the investments involved. Farmers who do not wish to market through
the local cooperative are excluded, as are older farmers, unskilled farmers, farmers
who do not have access to research, marginal farmers, those in geographically remote
or ecologically marginal areas, those who have less ability to pay for their labour, or
those who do not have suitable cooperatives in their neighbourhood etc.
Two thirds of the Fairtrade premium goes to middle income countries in South
America and the Caribbean (Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International, 2010). But
Mexico, one of the main Fairtrade supplying countries, has 70 times the GNP per head
of Sierra Leone. The minimum wage of agricultural workers in Peru is $3 per day
unimaginable riches for many African and Asian farmers.
Few people would be upset that a charity gives money to the rather better off
rather than the very poor, as long as the donors are told to whom the money is going
this distribution of charity may not be ‘optimal’, but it is a step in the right direction.
Few would be upset that a charity helps the poor in Britain, say, even though they are
rich by international standards, as long as it is very clear about the intended
beneficiaries. Not telling the donors would be Unfair Trading.
Some charities specialize in a single issue or a single technique, like Water Aid. If
these allocate resources to get the maximum impact, they will complement the other
sources of aid and charity.
Once an organization sets itself up as an expert in the Third World, helping Third
World producers, as Fairtrade has, donors have a right to believe that it will allocate
scarce resources rationally to get the maximum impact for the stated intended
beneficiaries, or that it will tell them if it has other objectives. These ethical decisions
on where to allocate funds are made routinely and constantly by governments, the
major aid agencies and aid workers. In my book (2003), I show that, as an economist
working on agricultural and food marketing in the Third World, I am constantly faced
with such problems. I often know that people will die whatever course of action I
recommend there are not sufficient resources available to prevent deaths and
someone has to decide who will die, and how many of them.
The Honeypot Effect
Fairtrade enthusiasts claim the ‘Honeypot Effect’ as a major benefit, that other
organizations give money to cooperatives, just because they are Fairtrade. It is very
tempting for an NGO, government, agency or donor government to deliver aid or
charity through a cooperative that is already well managed, that already gets aid from
other agencies, that has skilled and educated members, and that has a comfortable
rest house for visitors. It is easier and faster to deliver health and education to a
cooperative that has already spent a little money on building a clinic and a classroom,
with the donor providing staff, equipment, books and medicines. It means that
demonstrable results are easier to achieve in the short run. Fairtrade cooperatives
expect to get funding from six to twelve other organizations.4 This means that money
is diverted away from the neediest, causing Death and Destitution. The same ethical
problems arise if the effect is reversed, if Fairtrade chooses to work with those
cooperatives that have rich and skilled farmers precisely because they already get aid
from six to twelve other donors a much more likely scenario.
Reduced Mobility
If, indeed, Fairtrade farmers are paid more for their coffee, these rich, skilled,
farmers are less likely to switch into other crops which make better use of their skills
and resources. This reduces the opportunities for very poor marginal farmers to take
their place.
Pushing down the World Price
This subsection assumes that Fairtrade farmers are in fact getting the higher
prices claimed, and examines the impact on other farmers.
If Fairtrade farmers are paid a higher price and if they have a guaranteed
4 (Murray, Raynolds, & Taylor, 2003), (Valkila J., 2009, p. 3024), (Utting, 2009, p. 141), (Ronchi,
2002), (Luetchford, 2006)
minimum price to reduce risk and increase expected price still further, they will
increase production. Fairtrade and its enthusiasts claim that the proportion of the
premium spent on agronomic advice substantially increases yields and reduces unit
costs, providing an incentive to increase production in addition to the strong price
response normally expected with coffee. The world market price for coffee is famously
inelastic, so a 1% increase in supply could lead to a 5% fall in the New York price. A
coffee programme in Vietnam in the 1980s and early 1990s paid farmers above the
world price, so its coffee production increased a hundredfold in the sixteen years
1980/81 to 1996/97.5 A subsidized price for a few farmers halved the prices the other
24 million farmers received.
But this was the New York price, not the farm gate price. When the New York
prices fall, the percentage fall at farm gate is much higher, because costs like road
transport, shipping, processing and packaging are a fixed sum of money per pound. A
10c fall in the New York price means a 10c fall in the farm gate price, which means that
the net cash income of marginal farmers falls to zero and these are the poorest
farmers anyway, those who get the lowest prices in good times.
Similarly, the minimum price for Fairtrade farmers means that when there is a
glut on the world market it is never the Fairtrade farmers who have to cut down their
trees, always the poorest farmers.
Knocking competition
There is a constant stream of marketing, advertising and propaganda attacking
other marketing systems directly or indirectly. This must convince many consumers
that these systems are evil, and it is a small jump to thinking that the products
marketed are evil. And consumer demand for coffee has certainly fallen over the last
20 years. This has also damaged the development of niche markets for specialty coffee
which can pay farmers as much as three or four times the Fairtrade price. Traders claim
that their markets for high-priced specialty coffee have been seriously damaged
because consumers think it is more ethical to buy cheap Fairtrade coffee.
Fairtrade claims to be the only true ethical trading organization.6 It is at least
5 International Coffee Organization statistics. There is an urban myth that this overproduction was
caused by funding from the Asian Development Bank, and, in particular, the World Bank. In fact, the US
veto on multinational loans to Vietnam meant that Vietnam was excluded from World Bank and ADB
lending until 1993 (ADB, 2010) (US Department of State, 2010). The World Bank only began lending
again in the rural sector in Vietnam after 1996. (World Bank, 2010). It would normally take four years
from planting of coffee to harvest, six years to full harvest.
6 Fairtrade is at pains to distance itself from other ‘ethical trading’ organizations which may not
have the same problems and which could be far more effective: ‘The most high-profile examples
included the Rain Forest Alliance, Utz Kapeh (at Ahold supermarkets), and the Common Code for Coffee.
However, it is important that consumers realize that these labels are not analogous with Fairtrade and
possible that other multi-issue ethical traders are more effective, and that a range of
single issue groups are more effective than an organization with no clearly defined
objectives. The possibility that the Rain Forest Alliance, for instance, might be more
successful in raising environmental standards and that it might be a more cost-effective
way of achieving objectives is ignored.
There are also worries that Fairtrade is conflated with Trade Justice, a very
different movement, and that this confusion is encouraged in Fairtrade’s publicity.
Diversion of Aid and Charity
The Fairtrade industry diverts aid and charity from higher impact projects. It gets
gifts from governments, local governments, firms and individuals. It makes use of
volunteers. It makes use of teachers who might otherwise be teaching the truth about
the Third World. Some people regard Fairtrade as their one charitable donation.
Ethical implications
The Fairtrade industry certainly harms other farmers, especially the very poor. It
is not a zero-sum game, with the benefits to one group exactly matching the costs to
the other, partly because one group is nearer death, but also because the elasticity of
demand for coffee means that paying Fairtrade farmers a bit more can devastate 24
million others.
Farmers incur costs in time and money in order to get Fairtrade certification, but
it has been shown that little of the premium is passed on to them in cash, and there is
no evidence that they get higher prices. This section examines claims that, in spite of
this, impact studies show that they received benefits in some way.
The formal monitoring and evaluation process for aid projects carried out by the
aid agencies has two strands. First, there is strict monitoring of where the money goes
and how it is spent, down to the level of each constituent project, which is not the case
with Fairtrade. Second, there is evaluation to identify and quantify any impacts,
positive or negative. Any evaluation should be rigorous, where failures can cause Death
and Destitution. A meaningful impact study of Fairtrade must address the issues
identified in previous sections. (Valuable and rigorous research has been done which
does not purport to be an impact study, and which may not, therefore, address all
that the latter is the only market-driven mechanism that offers real positive impacts for disenfranchised
producers.’ (Nicholls, 2008)
these issues.)
First the impact study must identify what extra money was received by the
exporting cooperative. Then it must identify what the cooperative spent its money on,
according to the accounts, which is simple, and what it actually spent it on, which is
more difficult, and may be dangerous. This prevents the researcher from claiming
benefits from a school, say, which was not built, or which was built or operated by
another organization. The actual number of days input from the Fairtrade Labelling
Organizations advice should be set down.
The Honeypot Effect makes it impossible to say which of the organizations
produced any impact that might be noted in an impact study. A meaningful study
would have to identify and measure the inputs of other organizations, NGOs, donor
countries, aid agencies, government, etc. For example, claims that the introduction of
organic coffee to Nicaragua was an impact of Fairtrade cannot be sustained, given that
four specialist organic organizations can be shown to have had a significant effect
(Valkila, 2009, p. 3019), and some support would have come from government and the
aid agencies. These other inputs do not appear in the accounts of the cooperatives, so
identifying and quantifying them is a substantial task. And, of course, the conclusions
that are drawn depend on whether or not these interventions also impact on the
control group.
The costs of achieving certification are an unavoidable negative impact. The costs
to the different levels of cooperatives, including certification and inspection fees paid
to the Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International, can, in principle, be obtained
from the accounts. The costs to farmers, in higher wage bills and extra time spent
weeding instead of using herbicides, for instance, may be guessed at if there have been
substantial farm management studies for the crop, studies including the measurement
of labour inputs. Such studies are rare. Even here expert advice on interpretation is
needed (e.g. what is the ‘value’ of family farm labour?).
It has been shown above that it will generally be difficult to compare prices, and
that significant conceptual problems arise which may make it impossible. The
alternative of trying to identify economic impacts through changes in income is
expensive. Farm management studies are required, rather than statements of ‘income’
if income changes are to be related to specific interventions. This is the approach used
by aid agencies. Interpretation is difficult: as has been shown above, Fairtrade buyers
typically go to cooperatives with skilled, educated, healthy, relatively rich farmers who
get high prices because they can deliver consistent supplies of the qualities demanded,
and these farmers will still be skilled, educated, healthy, relatively rich and achieving
high prices even if Fairtrade has no economic impact.
In the case of coffee, world prices have been rising since 2002, so any farmers
asked will report an increase in prices over a period which may coincide with the time
they were Fairtrade members. The relative prices of Robusta and Arabica, say, on the
world market are constantly changing, which could give the false impression that one
group of farmers was doing relatively well because they were, or were not, members of
a Fairtrade cooperative.
It follows that any meaningful study must (a) cover the situation before and after
the cooperative joins Fairtrade and (b) have a control group of non-Fairtrade farmers.
The problems are well recognized, and baseline studies with control groups are
standard for international aid. However the design of the Fairtrade system means that
this raises horrendous sampling problems, expensive to tackle in all cases, and
impossible to tackle in many situations. For example, should the controls be matched
for income, education, family size, farm size, etc? Should they be matched for location,
especially rainfall, soils, transport to market etc? Should they be matched for
cooperative membership? Griffiths (2010b) shows how these problems invalidate one
attempt at an impact study.
If it is found that Fairtrade farmers are relatively better off than others after five
years, it may mean that Fairtrade has harmed the others in some of the ways
mentioned or it may mean that other factors have come into play, a change in the
relative prices for some qualities, perhaps, or a drought in areas with no Fairtrade
cooperatives perhaps.
This means that it is impossible to do a meaningful impact study in most
situations, especially when the opportunity to do a baseline study has been missed. In
nearly all other situations the cost of doing a meaningful impact study is prohibitive,
more than the average Fairtrade premium received by a cooperative.
Fairtrade money is spent on social projects which may not produce any economic
benefit. This means that studies which have attempted to find an impact have selected
indicators like ‘organizational strength of producer co-operatives, individual self-
confidence’ (Nelson & Pound, 2009, p. 6), ‘wellbeing’ (p. 8), members who ‘recycle
organic wastes’ (p. 9), ‘development of a new entrepreneurial spirit’ (p. 14),
‘improvements in school attendance’ (p. 14), increased confidence and self-esteem
(p. 14),. Even if these indicators had been selected before doing a baseline study, one
would ask, ‘Why these? Would other indicators be less favourable to Fairtrade?’ If they
were not, one must wonder if they were part of an attempt to find some indicator that
put Fairtrade in a good light. Using such indicators raises new methodological
problems, in addition to those mentioned above.
The fact that these problems exist is not an excuse for the failure to do impact
studies, rather it is the serious failing of setting up a charity/aid system for which no
monitoring or evaluation is possible, which is contrary to the ethical criteria of reducing
Death and Destitution and Unfair Trade.
I do not know of any attempts at impact studies that address any of these
problems. The British government aid organization, DfID, which has given millions to
Fairtrade, admitted in a Freedom of Information enquiry that the division responsible
for Fairtrade and ethical trade holds no evaluations of any sort whatsoever. In
Fairtrade’s own Comprehensive Review of the Literature on the Impact of Fairtrade
(Nelson & Pound, 2009), the authors, who have worked on Fairtrade over a dozen
years, were able to find only 23 reports containing 33 separate case studies which they
would accept as impact studies. They say ‘All of the reports are published academic
and development agency studies, including journal articles, working papers and
reports,’ (p 4) but, on examination, it is seen that they include an undergraduate
dissertation; a master’s dissertation and a PHD thesis whose authors do not wish them
to be published or disseminated; the same paper cited under two different references;
reports written by employees or members of Fairtrade cooperatives; a paper
cherrypicking from other, unobtainable, studies; and repeated studies of the same,
successful, cooperatives. The standard survey reports are not available, so it is not
possible to answer the standard questions: Was the survey carried out at all?’, ‘Was
the methodology, including the sampling, valid?’, Do the data support the conclusions
presented?’, ‘Do the data support alternative conclusions? The reports do not address
the issues raised here. Even if the results were meaningful, it would be improper to
generalize from a tiny number of case studies of selected successful cooperatives to
3000 Fairtrade suppliers.
The failures of Fairtrade identified above arise from the fact that the headline
objective advertised to customers, A fair and stable price to farmers for their products’
(Fairtrade Foundation, 2011), is not the main objective of many of its founders and
managers. The main objective was political and could not be achieved using tried and
tested methods of getting charity from the donor to farmers.
As shown above, the adoption of market-based delivery of charity has meant that
businesses in rich countries and cooperatives in poor countries could take most of the
money donated. It has also made it impossible to monitor and control what happened
to the donations. Because farmers are coerced into selling through cooperatives, they
are tied to possibly inefficient buyers, and cannot sell to the buyers offering the best
price package.
This marketing system has also increased opportunities for corruption. Theft and
corruption can make markets inefficient, so that less and less of the retail price reaches
the farmer and price signals are obscured. Markets sometimes collapse as a result. For
this reason both governments and industry organizations like the stock exchange try to
set up marketing systems which minimize the opportunity and temptation to steal:
they nurse them into existence and then tend them carefully. Reducing the temptation
and opportunity is more important than detecting and punishing theft, which both
governments and stock exchanges find difficult. The ethical aim is not just to protect
individuals from theft, but to protect everyone using the market, directly or indirectly.
The Fairtrade system provides more opportunities for theft than normal
marketing systems. It uses the same retailers, wholesalers, packers, importers and
commodity markets as the normal system. The big increase in the possibility of
corruption arises because payments are not linked to observable product quality, but
are a subsidy. If there is a subsidy of, say, 10% of the total price, then market
intermediaries can steal anything up to 10% and still leave the intended recipients
slightly better off and afraid to complain in case they lose the rest as well. For example,
subsidized credit schemes often mean that farmers have to bribe the credit officer,
bringing the true cost in line with the moneylenders’ interest rate.
With normal charity it is possible to have strict financial controls.
The ethics of politics and aid
The code of ethics for aid workers requires that we do not indulge in politics. Any
employee of the international agencies who did would be fired instantly. There are
many reasons for this. It is likely to mean that we lose sight of the goals of our project
and it fails. Local politicians or intended beneficiaries who dislike our politics may
sabotage our project. Donors, whether governments or individuals, will be reluctant to
finance aid if any significant proportion is seen to be supporting a political agenda they
do not support, or prioritize. If one aid worker has a political agenda, it taints the
reputation of all aid workers in that organization and perhaps other aid organizations
as well. The use of aid as a weapon of war in Iraq and Afghanistan has meant that aid
workers are now seen as legitimate targets (for the first time in my life) and that even
workers for the Red Crescent and the UN, which are not involved in the war, have been
killed. It is arrogant in the extreme for someone who happens to be allocating
charitable funds to use the economic power that this gives to force their politics on
Some charities are set up purely to achieve political objectives, and many of the
objections fall away if the donors and people in the recipient country realize this.
However, getting locals to adopt your political ideas and assert what you think are their
democratic rights may get them imprisoned or murdered, while you, as a foreigner,
merely get deported. And experienced aid workers know that it takes them years to
get some inkling of how a country’s political system really works in one case it was
widely believed that a country was pro-capitalist when it was Stalinist (Griffiths, 2003
p83). The residents of the recipient country may well consider the charity to be
patronizing and an abuse of economic power. Local politicians will be hostile to a
charity which is a front for a political organization which threatens them personally, or
their ideals, whether the charity supports US democracy, Scandinavian social
democracy, Al Qaeda or Marxism each of which is unacceptable in many countries. A
certain political content seems to be acceptable with government-to-government aid.
The Political and Marketing Revolution
The objectives of Fairtrade, as shown by what is done rather than what is said,
appear to be
1. To build a new and sustainable marketing system that is fair and is better
for Fairtrade farmers, which they assume to be a system based on
agricultural marketing cooperatives.
2. To change the world economic system, towards cooperative marketing.
It is not suggested that these are consistent.
These objectives mean that Fairtrade has to deliver the charity through the
marketing system rather than through tried and tested charity systems, and it must
deliver through cooperatives rather than possibly more efficient private traders, with
the intention of promoting democracy and increasing the political and economic power
of poor farmers. In addition it wants to promote standards for national governments
(e.g. on trade unions and minimum wages), for cooperatives (on democracy and
openness), and for farmers (on environmental cultivation, health and safety, and the
role of women and children for instance).
Historically, these objectives and the design of the system appear to have been
derived from a desire for a political and marketing revolution. According to Boersma
(2009), who is credited with founding the Fairtrade system, and others who agree with
him (e.g. Audebrand and Pauchant (2009), Gendron and Rance (2009), Reed (2009),
McMurtry (2009)), the belief is that this will lead to a new, non-capitalist, economic
system. Indeed, it appears to imply a political and social revolution in South and Central
America. This belief is not supported by political or economic analysis and there is no
economic model of how such a system could work. No use is made of the vast amount
of academic research and practical experience of agricultural marketing and
cooperatives: evidence which is not challenged, nor assumed away, just ignored.
Similarly, the evidence does not support the belief that producer marketing
cooperatives will lead to a political revolution. The colonial project of the British Empire
used cooperatives as one way of making the colonies economically viable, of training
the people in democracy and of enriching poor farmers, in order to create
economically viable, self-governing democracies within the Empire. The cooperatives
were usually successfully run, partly because of the support of colonial officers who
advised on management, checked the accounts and prosecuted managers from time to
time. The trade was strongly supported with Buy Empire Products campaigns and with
trade policy, first Free Trade, then Imperial Preference, then the Sterling Area. In
practice the cooperatives were not successful in ensuring democratic rule after
independence, let alone a socialist revolution. The communist states of Eastern Europe
built on the successful, pre-revolution, Imperial cooperative movement, but their
cooperatives were so hated that foreign advisers are now warned never to mention the
word ‘cooperative’ in these states. In Albania, members of cooperatives celebrated the
downfall of communism by pulling down the cooperative buildings and dividing the
bricks between members. Again, they did not produce democracy. Those European
countries with a large number of successful producer marketing cooperatives, like
France and the Netherlands, are not noticeably more democratic than their
Another ethical problem is that many of the key players do not believe that a
revolution is desirable, not the customers, nor the supermarkets and manufacturers,
and possibly not the farmers. Some people who do think revolution is desirable would
like it to be achieved in other ways, or to have a different revolution.
The Unfair Trading criteria suggest that, at the least, everyone should be told that
this is an objective, and that it hampers the achievements of other objectives.
Cooperatives have to meet political standards to get Fairtrade certification. This
sub-section shows that the standards divert money from farmers and can harm them.
There are weaknesses in the design and enforcement of the standards.
Fairtrade pays the social premium as a bribe (in the welfare economics sense) to
coerce farmers and cooperatives to adopt standards which would not otherwise have
been adopted. The bribe may be to cooperatives and their managers to get them to
force farmers to adopt standards for which they get no benefit, not even the bribe. It
would not be feasible to bribe individual farmers.
The standards set by Fairtrade are not universally supported even in the rich
world (though I, personally, would support some of them as political objectives in my
own country) and it is arguable that they are inappropriate for very poor countries. The
requirement that Fairtrade farmers pay higher wages for seasonal workers is fine as
long as the crop is still profitable: if it is not, it means reduced production and income
for the farmer, and reduced local employment for seasonal workers (Valkila, 2009, p.
3023). There is no reason to believe that Fairtrade gives higher prices to farmers which
would make it possible for them to pay the higher wages. Poor farmers have no access
to contraception and so have children to feed. If these children are to survive, they
must work on the family farm. Fairtrade’s prohibition of child labour is fine if they pay
the farmers enough extra to feed the children. They do not. Farmers complain that
Fairtrade imposes environmental standards, on the use of herbicides for example, that
almost no farmers in rich countries meet. These standards, they complain, are
inappropriate for the producing country how could someone in Switzerland draw up
standards equally applicable to 70 countries with different climates, ecology and crops.
The banning of herbicides also forces poor farmers to do weeks of backbreaking work
in hot, humid, conditions to make people in rich countries feel better about themselves
(Utting-Chamorro (2005); Moberg (2005)).
Design of standards
Quality experts talk of ‘inspector quality’ when quality control inspectors draw up
a tick list of factors that are easy to measure but may have little to do with the quality
of the product to the consumer or anyone else. Peter Fraser, author of CQI Body of
Quality Knowledge, is critical of the design of the Fairtrade standards:
‘To me they need to set clear overall objectives and policies for the movement,
decide how they will achieve the objectives and comply with the policies, then
say as little as possible about how people should go about it while ensuring that
the overall objectives and policies are achieved and complied with. The suppliers
are the last group of folk who will want to comply with detailed regulations.
It is a basic result of the economics of quality that the more criteria that are
introduced for a grade, such as Fairtrade, the less likely it is that the grade will actually
reflect the quality of any buyer or anyone else. (Bowbrick, 1992) And Fairtrade has lots
of criteria. (This is another reason why single issue charities may be more effective.)
Enforcement of standards
Fairtrade is a credence good. As with ‘kosher’, ‘free range’ or ‘organic’, customers
cannot see whether it meets its specifications, and independent monitoring is needed
to prevent Unfair Trading and, indeed, for the market to exist at all. Fairtrade Labelling
Organizations International spend very little on this, less than 1m Euros per year,
(Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International, 2010) and they charge the
cooperatives for this.
‘There are only 54 inspectors around the world, working on a part-time freelance
basis to check and control a million producers. These checks do not take place on
the ground but in offices, hotel rooms or even by fax,’ (Christian Jacquiau cited in
Hamel, 2006).
Paola Ghillani, who spent four years as president of Fairtrade Labelling Organizations is
equally critical (Hamel, 2006). She says that Max Havelaar (a European brand name of
Fairtrade) is seriously weak when it comes to checks (Hamel, 2006). There is a lack of
proper controls among smaller producers according to Ghillani (Hamel, 2006). There
are many complaints of poor enforcement problems: Fairtrade does have quality
problems (Lamb H., 2008, p. 41); labourers on Fairtrade farms in Peru are paid less
than the minimum wage (Weitzman, 2006a, 2006b); some non-Fairtrade coffee is sold
as Fairtrade (Weitzman, 2006); ‘the standards are not very strict in the case of
seasonally hired labour in coffee production.’ (Valkila, 2009, p. 3023); some fair trade
standards are not strictly enforced’ (Reed, 2009, p. 12); supermarkets avoid their
responsibility (Moore, Gibbon, & Slack, 2006).
Proctor’s (2008) work on agnotology, the study of the cultural creation of
ignorance, shows how the tobacco industry replaced certainty the clear scientific
evidence that smoking causes cancer and heart disease with doubt and ignorance on
the matter among the general public and legislators. In the UK ignorance about
Fairtrade, in the form of wildly unrealistic beliefs held by the general public and
volunteers, has been created in a somewhat different way, largely by giving people the
freedom to fantasize about Fairtrade, and encouraging them to do so. The beliefs may
be held by employees of the Fairtrade organizations, by the manufacturers and
supermarkets, and their employees, and by public relations and advertising staff selling
the message as they understand it. Also important are the volunteers, activists,
teachers, clerics etc. who promote it. And eventually it is the consumers who process
what information they have to reach their own conclusions and tell their friends.
Unquestionably, the Fairtrade advertising and public relations campaign has been very
As with tobacco, the concealment of information by the industry is the first step.
Fairtrade should tell consumers, ‘We do not know how much extra you are paying, but
in some cases 90% to 99% is pocketed by businessmen in rich countries as extra profit.
On average less than 1% of the retail price is spent on social projects in the Third
World, but we do not know if farmers benefit from these. We have no reason to
believe that any money reaches farmers in the form of higher prices, though farmers
certainly incur extra costs to get Fairtrade certification. The ethical position is that it is
Unfair Trading when
‘a trader hides or provides in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely
manner such material information . . . or fails to identify the commercial intent
of the commercial practice if not already apparent from the context, and where,
in either case, this causes or is likely to cause the average consumer to take a
transactional decision that he would not have taken otherwise.’ (European
Commission, 2005)
The Fairtrade organizations, both UK and International, give a lot of publicity to
the rapidly growing total retail value of goods bearing the Fairtrade label. They have
repeatedly failed to publicize the actual amount reaching the Third World, though they
routinely collect the figures when collecting their fees.
Similarly, the figures I have calculated on how much is spent on business costs,
women’s projects and environmental projects used information not available in
previous years. If it had been communicated effectively, it is difficult to believe that
there would have been the widespread belief that the money goes to Fairtrade farmers
in the form of higher prices, or that there were substantial environmental projects. The
information presented in the Annual Report is not evidenced, sourced or explained: it
could be a guess, it could come from a survey, or it could come from the actual
accounts of export cooperatives, in which case Fairtrade Labelling Organizations
International have vastly more information than they care to release, information
which independent researchers could usefully analyse.
There is also a widespread belief that the Fairtrade organizations have a large
team of expert advisers who give their suppliers a level of advice not available
elsewhere on prices, marketing, processing, accounts, management, agronomy, etc:
there are mentions of this advice in their literature and supporters claim it. But
Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International does not say just how many people they
employ on this and what they do. To give this range of advice for a large number of
suppliers in 70 countries speaking English, French, Spanish, Portuguese etc., it would
necessary to employ short term experts. If they are employed at the standard rates
paid by the aid agencies and the claim is that they are better than the standard
experts it is unlikely that the budget for ‘Producer Services & Relations’ (Fairtrade
Labelling Organizations International, 2010) could pay for as many as 20 person years,
spread very thinly indeed over the large number of suppliers. And it is by no means
clear from the accounts that all this money is spent on this. While Fairtrade Labelling
Organizations International claims they will provide the full accounts on request, they
do not do this, so a fuller analysis is impossible.
Much of what does appear, on Fairtrade websites for instance, is extremely
difficult to locate, or obscurely written.
False information
Some of the statements made by Fairtrade organizations, manufacturers and
retailers and their staff are false or cannot be supported by the evidence, on how much
reaches the farmers for instance.
Another concern is the use of soundbites. Fairtrade UK makes strong use of a
photograph of a smiling Third World farmer with a quote such as
‘With Fairtrade small farmers have been transformed from marginalised
farmers into businessmen’ Amos Wiltshire, Windward Islands Farmers
Association (WINFA,) Dominica
‘As well as receiving a higher income, the money enables us to fund
projects such as computer courses for young people and adults’ Reginaldo
Vincentim, Coagrosol Co-operative, Brazil.
‘For us Fairtrade means conserving and improving our land and looking
after the environment, it means improving the air that we breathe. It means
education for our children and access to healthcare for our families… it means
better opportunities above all for women, opportunities to organise and take
decisions. Fairtrade means that producers and consumers work together for a
better life. Fairtrade is much more than just a question of money.’ Blanca Rosa
Molina, Cecocafen Coffee Co-operative, Nicaragua.
‘We have taken our destiny into our own hands. Through Fairtrade and
Kuapa we now have a lot of progress. We have good drinking water, toilet
facilities and schools’ Comfort Kwaasibeam Kuapa Kokoo Union, Ghana.
‘Fairtrade means more security, a bigger say and a better life for ourselves
and our families.’ Raymond Kimary, Kilimanjaro Native Cooperative Union
(KNCU), Tanzania
These may be seen as an invitation to readers to believe first that these are a true and
verifiable statement of the facts relating to that farmer’s cooperative, and, second,
that it is reasonable to generalize from a single statement to all farmers and all
Similarly there is cherrypicking of evidence: giving the correct statement that one
cooperative has spent money on a clinic, another on a school, another on an
environmental programme, and leaving it to readers to conclude that all cooperatives
do all these.
Failure to correct false information
There is a failure by the Fairtrade organizations to correct false statements made
by their own staff and by the manufacturers and retailers selling Fairtrade products.
And there is a failure to correct the false impressions that its volunteers, supporters
and customers have fantasised.
This is particularly worrying because Fairtrade responds rapidly to any criticisms
in the press. And the quality of their response is even more worrying. An ethical
organization might be expected to respond, ‘We have investigated the complaint. It is
incorrect for the following reasons. . . Here is the evidence.’ Or ‘We have investigated
the complaint. We have prosecuted the manager concerned and removed certification
from one of the traders. Here is the evidence.’ Instead, the response is soundbites
attempting to divert attention from the problem. Sidwell quotes ‘Lamb (2008), p. 114,
where she lays out some of the large-scale charges made by Fairtrade’s critics, and
then answers with an anecdote from one Fairtrade producer, “But Merling is
unequivocal: Fairtrade has changed the lives of the farmers in her cooperative”.’ Other
examples are Fairtrade’s reply to Sidwell (Fairtrade Foundation, 2008); Lamb’s (2008);
reply to my (2008) article; Lamb (2006); Newman, (2006), and Fairtrade responses to
Christian Jacquiau’s (2006, 2007) 500 page critique (Doussin, 2007; Hamel, 2006).
This paper set out several Utilitarian ethical criteria: that it is unethical to
increase Death and Destitution, and that it is unethical to use Unfair Trading practices,
both because it permits the increase of Death and Destitution, and because it could
damage the credibility of charities.
An alternative use of the donations would be to send it to the Third World, to
help the very poor, those on the verge of starvation, in which case it would cut Death
and Destitution. Instead, a minimum of 50% of the donation stays in rich countries and
in some cases more than 99% does. Much of the money that does reach the Third
World goes on the costs of Fairtrade conformity and certification. Most of the rest goes
on social projects. There is no evidence from impact studies that these benefit the
Third World. There is no evidence that Fairtrade gives what they promise, ‘A fair and
stable price to farmers for their products’. Fairtrade concentrates on the relatively rich,
and there is reason to believe that it harms other farmers.
Many of the weaknesses in the system arise from the political objectives of some
of its founders. The aid workers’ code of ethics would not permit this.
It can be argued that this system is only possible because the Fairtrade industry
makes false claims and suppresses significant information, which constitutes Unfair
Trading. This has created the very effective marketing situation where consumers,
supporters and volunteers are given the freedom to fantasize about what Fairtrade
The Unfair Trading criteria suggest that Fairtrade goods should be clearly labelled
‘This product costs x pence more than the equivalent non-Fairtrade product. Of this, y
pence (z %) goes into social projects, but we have no evidence that these produce
benefits to the farmers. We have no reason to believe that any extra money is paid to
farmers, though they certainly incur extra costs to get Fairtrade certification. Non-
Fairtrade farmers are harmed. We spend much of the money trying to create a non-
capitalist political and economic system, which is set out on
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... Regarding the provenance of Fair Trade goods, investigative journalism has detailed cases that illustrate that Fair Trade certification is far from a guarantee of fair treatment of farmworkers (Weitzman 2006). More systematic approaches suggest that very little of the premium paid by the consumer actually reaches poor farmers (Griffiths 2012;De Janvry, McIntosh, and Sadoulet 2015;Booth and Whetstone 2007). Regarding their effect, Griffiths (2012) suggests that Fair Trade's criteria means a better deal for farmers in developing countries with stronger institutions who are already relatively better off than the worst-off farmers in the poorest countries, and Fair Trade's blanket ban on genetically modified organisms arguably sets back development of a key technology for coping with environmental problems. ...
... More systematic approaches suggest that very little of the premium paid by the consumer actually reaches poor farmers (Griffiths 2012;De Janvry, McIntosh, and Sadoulet 2015;Booth and Whetstone 2007). Regarding their effect, Griffiths (2012) suggests that Fair Trade's criteria means a better deal for farmers in developing countries with stronger institutions who are already relatively better off than the worst-off farmers in the poorest countries, and Fair Trade's blanket ban on genetically modified organisms arguably sets back development of a key technology for coping with environmental problems. ...
... With fair-trade coffee, for instance, the differences between what retailers would have charged for the same coffee without the Fair Trade certification are both counterfactual and confidential. Some estimates are an extra ten British pence per cup or five US dollars per pound of coffee, via retail (Griffiths 2012). ...
Many people argue that we should practice conscientious consumption. Faced with goods from gravely flawed production processes, such as wood from clear-cut rainforests or electronics containing conflict minerals, they argue that we should enact personal policies to routinely shun tainted goods and select pure(r) goods. However, consumers typically should be relatively uncertain about which flaws in global supply chains are grave and the connection of purchases to those grave flaws. The threat of significant uncertainty makes conscientious consumption appear to be no better, or even worse, than an overlooked option. This overlooked option is consumption with relinquishment: disregarding each product’s possible connections with upstream grave flaws and using the time, money, and energy saved in this way to address grave flaws directly.
... From a producer/farmer perspective, the poorest producers are often excluded in certification and labelling systems (Griffiths, 2012). Nevertheless, we find that, holding other factors unchanged, producers with the lowest level of income are also more likely to receive the highest premium, an additional rationale for investment in an even more inclusive labelling system (Blowfield and Dolan, 2010). ...
... accessed 22 July 2021. Also, to note that the Fair Trade movement which has its focus on ethical trade has its own problems (see Griffiths, 2012). There are concerns about reproduction of power asymmetries (Raynolds, 2017;Wilson and Jackson, 2016), elements of unfair and disempowering trading practices (Herman, 2019), and in some cases producers not receiving their fair share of wages (Cramer et al., 2017;Kilian et al., 2006;Valkila et al., 2010). ...
Only ten years ago, there were more internet users in countries like France or Germany than in all of Africa put together. But much has changed in a decade. The year 2018 marks the first year in human history in which a majority of the world’s population are now connected to the internet. This mass connectivity means that we have an internet that no longer connects only the world’s wealthy. Workers from Lagos to Johannesburg to Nairobi and everywhere in between can now apply for and carry out jobs coming from clients who themselves can be located anywhere in the world. Digital outsourcing firms can now also set up operations in the most unlikely of places in order to tap into hitherto disconnected labour forces. With CEOs in the Global North proclaiming that ‘location is a thing of the past’ (Upwork, 2018), and governments and civil society in Africa promising to create millions of jobs on the continent, the book asks what this ‘new world of digital work’ means to the lives of African workers. It draws from a year-long fieldwork in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, and Uganda, with over 200 interviews with participants including gig workers, call and contact centre workers, self-employed freelancers, small-business owners, government officials, labour union officials, and industry experts. Focusing on both platform-based remote work and call and contact centre work, the book examines the job quality implications of digital work for the lives and livelihoods of African workers.
... The shipping, grading, and packaging costs are borne by the cooperatives, and some cooperatives withhold the Fairtrade bonus. So, unfortunately, almost none of the Fairtrade premium paid by consumers goes directly back to farmers (Griffiths, 2012). ...
Full-text available
Today, knowledge management (KM) is mainly directed towards solving tame organisational problems. But I argue, in this personal essay, that KM can move beyond organisational boundaries to address the “wicked” social problems impacting our globe. As KM researchers and practitioners, we need to reconceptualise KM as a technology for improving society. Through problem-driven research, we can use the critical voice of KM to expose and tackle issues of substance. While it is essential to improve organisational efficiencies and manage knowledge inside companies, it should not be at the expense of society. By understanding the impacts KM can have on improving society, not just organisations, researchers, practitioners and policymakers can replace communities of practice with collaborative organisational coalitions to help address the wicked problems.
This article reviews extant multidisciplinary literature to uncover existing themes and directions in the knowledge of the overlap between natural resource scarcity and illicit supply chain activity. In doing so, the authors present a novel review of this nascent, complex, and multidisciplinary research area. This review has uncovered 127 articles that have not been synthesized or organized in a meaningful way with the supply chain literature. It extracts insights and develops a comprehensive process framework encompassing the following: (a) antecedents associated with natural resource extraction, which foments the opportunity for illicit activity to thrive; (b) resulting economic, social, and environmental outcomes from illicit activity as it relates to natural resource extraction; and (c) potential moderating processes, which either enable or inhibit illicit activity to occur, including firm‐level tactics that businesses can employ to counteract illicit activity throughout the supply chain and to promote sustainable long‐term operations. An extensive agenda is presented suggesting future research paths, methodologies, theories, and potential contributions.
Full-text available
Executive summary This research was commissioned by the Fairtrade Foundation with support from Open Society Foundations to gain a deeper understanding of the mechanisms that either enable or prevent cooperatives creating value for their membership base and communities in the Ghanaian cocoa sector. The research drew on desk research and primary data collection, which included an analysis of two existing Fairtrade cocoa co-operatives' development trajectories, in order to provide a framework for understanding factors that allow or prevent cooperatives from creating value and distributing that value among their members. This framework was used to create a theory of change for cooperative value creation and a road map with recommendations going forward on ways for external actors to support Ghana's cocoa cooperatives. The study explored the internal and external factors that drive value creation by cooperatives. Membership cohesion, strong leadership, efficient operating procedures, and effective governance mechanisms are all key internal factors identified as impacting on cooperative value creation. External enablers (or underminers) include socioeconomic cohesion in cooperative communities and fertile (or unfavourable) value chain, institutional and broader socioeconomic environments. These factors form the conceptual basis applied to investigate the two case study cooperatives within the context of historical and present day cocoa production, markets and the cooperative movement in Ghana. The findings show that the cooperatives studied create value by offering fair and prompt payments, certification premium, and provision of extension services and inputs. Training activities are highly appreciated by farmers, particularly those related to productivity increases. However, differences in skills, resources, and power among members undermine training effectiveness and create inequalities in participation and representation within the cooperatives. Finally, difficulties in engaging with sharecroppers (who as non-members of cooperatives are likely to miss out on training and incentives) undermine efforts to increase productivity, eliminate child labour and produce cocoa sustainably. Internally, strong leadership and sustained investments in human capital are crucial for cooperative value creation, while solid governance structures are necessary for the value to be fairly distributed across members. In terms of membership size, a smaller size can be beneficial in terms of organisational efficiency and premium effectiveness, but it can undermine the commercial ability of a cooperative to source sufficient cocoa volumes to establish itself competitively in the market. Externally, proactive institutional and commercial partners are key enablers of cooperative emergence and growth and can play a key role in ensuring transparency and functionality, while also supporting cooperatives to overcome operational and governance challenges. The underlying risk is cooperatives prioritising the agenda of their partners over their own interests. Overall, findings suggest that there is currently a strong demand for cocoa cooperatives in Ghana, both by farmers who long for accessible agricultural services, and by institutional and value chain actors seeking optimal ways to reach and engage with farmers. Following feedback from the participating cooperatives , it is recommended to focus future support on the inclusion of sharecroppers in training activities and incentives; create value chain sector guidelines for coordinated and diversified partner support; facilitate cooperative networks and platforms; invest in specialised support structures for cooperatives ; invest in leadership skills among young people in cocoa farming communities; and prioritise governance strengthening over operational investments.
Consumers are becoming more demanding about the social and environmental conditions surrounding how products and services are made and provided. Aware of this trend, marketers have incentives to use social- or green-washing, to match consumers’ desire to purchase conscientiously. A newer marketing trend is “pink-washing”, where companies express their “wokeness” (or social-cultural progressiveness) about sexual and gender identity to sell their goods and services. One way to combat this is via certification trade marks, examined and registered through intellectual property offices, which consumers use as a trust system. However, there are companies that use normal or unregistered trade marks and claim to perform certifications. They are taking advantage of the trust system. This article undertakes a case study of “Rainbow Tick” in Australia and New Zealand to illustrate that it is relatively easy to exploit rising consumer concerns around social and environmental issues by hijacking the trust system of certification trade marks. This article proposes that we need to rebuild the trust system through four measures: (1) applications for normal trade marks that could mislead or deceive that they are certification trade marks should be rejected; (2) failure to apply for a certification trade mark (when the intention is to use the mark as a certification trade mark) should be deemed an application made in bad faith; (3) all certification trade marks should have “Cert. TM” on them, or otherwise indicate their nature; and (4) education programmes should ensure that consumers understand the distinction between normal trade marks and marks with “Cert. TM”, and what exactly this embodies.
Agricultural cooperatives (ACs) are major players in European farming, where they account for 40–60% of agricultural trade, and are key actors in articulating rural realities. This paper offers a solidary critique of ACs beyond the dominant institutional economics lens, and aims to resume the debate on their de/repoliticisation. Evidence presented points towards a continuous process of co-optation of ACs by the dominant food regime as well as decreased adherence to cooperative principles, revealing theoretical parallelisms with the organic and fair trade movements. While acknowledging the important role ACs play in supporting farmers, many of who interviewed for this research reported they could not survive without them, this paper warns of the loss of their historical political roots, and introduces a new theoretical framework for a more integrated study of ACs in the context of wider food system forces. The framework is composed of three conceptual components: first, the coooperative triangle illustrates interwoven cooperative identitary dimensions; second, the cooperative hourglass depicts ongoing tensions between the cooperative economic and governance model, and the market economy they exist in; and third, the concept of cooperative sustainability brings together the previous two components to analyse ACs' ability and capacity to maintain the dimensions indicated in the cooperative triangle while also fostering environmental sustainability through their practices.
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Voluntary Sustainability Standard systems in agricultural production are non-government initiatives that seek to drive sustainable production and consumption of specified agricultural commodities by creating market demand for these commodities and a supply to meet that demand. Across developing countries, sustainable production is concentrated in Latin America which is also a breeding ground for proliferating voluntary sustainability standards with primary motive ranging from poverty alleviation to ornithology. A critical analysis of the currently popular standards shows that there is convergence in the sphere of core values. Most standards now cover social and environmental sustainability both. At the same time, the standards competing fiercely to promote their labels and are diverging to distinguish themselves based on their differing ideological roots and philosophies.
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This paper analyzes the possibilities and challenges of Fair Trade certification as a movement seeking to improve the well-being of small-scale coffee growers and coffee laborers in the global South. Six months of fieldwork was conducted in 2005–2006 to study the roles of a wide range of farmers, laborers, cooperative administrators, and export companies in Fair Trade coffee production and trade in Nicaragua. The results of our evaluation of the ability of Fair Trade to meet its objectives indicate that Fair Trade's opportunities to provide a significant price premium for participating farmers largely depend on world coffee prices in mainstream markets. While Fair Trade has promoted premiums for social development for participating producers and strengthened the institutional capacities of the cooperatives involved, its ability to enhance significantly the working conditions of hired coffee laborers remains limited.
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Arnould, Plastina and Ball (2009) ask, "Does Fair Trade Deliver on its Core Value Proposition, but their study fails ignores the core values of TransFair, those values on which it spends most money. It does not address its objectives, asking whether consumers receive the value they anticipate. Their study is invalid for the following reasons. It ignores the many convincing reasons other than TransFair membership why TransFair cooperatives should have a higher income, better education or better health. What are called "TransFair farmers" turn out to be only those in the most successful TransFair cooperatives, so it remains possible that all the other cooperatives are losing money from their TransFair membership. There are weaknesses in sampling. There are interviewer biases and response biases from the selection of interviewers and the financing of the study. Biases in the reporting of quantities, prices and area are almost certain to have occurred. The regressions on price present what appear to be random figures. The regressions on education give no support to the hypothesis.
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What is the value of public price information systems for wholesale marketing in EC horticulture? Before the advent of today's advanced marketing theory and channelling of information these systems were considered in some quarters to be advantageous but the ramifications of the modern marketing scene and expenditure on modern technology lead some observers to wonder if they are practical and worthwhile. The conclusion here appears to be that in view of their many deficiencies horticulture will be no worse off without them.
With the impending removal of tariff quotas that formerly guaranteed access to the UK market, the Eastern Caribbean banana industry faces the prospect of direct price competition with cheaper Latin American bananas. Some farming communities in the region have embraced Fair Trade as an alternative marketing strategy. Certified Fair Trade farmers receive higher prices than do conventional growers, as well as a social premium for local development. In exchange, they must conform to extensive social and environmental criteria. This article compares the rhetorical claims of the Fair Trade movement with the experiences of Fair Trade farmers on St. Lucia. By examining the price differential between conventional and Fair Trade fruit and appropriateness of certifying criteria, I offer a preliminary assessment of Fair Trade as a form of anti-globalization politics.
Virtually every decision to produce, buy or sell is influenced by quality, yet this is one of the very few that attempts to produce a theory that works in the real world, and that is at the same time comprehensive, consistent and rigorous. Here, Peter Bowbrick brings together different traditions of quality analysis from economics, marketing economics and marketing itself to identify the limitations of the different traditions of quality economics and some approaches to its analysis. Beginning with a definition of the subject and the concepts involved, this comprehensive title will be of particular value to students of Economics, Marketing and Business Studies.
How an agricultural economist working as a consultant in Sierra Leone found a famine situation, and what he did about it
This paper examines the extent to which certified fairtrade cotton programs in West Africa present an alternative to the conventional cotton economy. Two fairtrade programs operating in Burkina Faso and Mali serve as case studies. The paper argues that fairtrade cotton fails to offer an alternative to conventional cotton because it works within the same commodity chain that impoverishes farmers in the first place. Cotton grower organizations seek more power within the conventional cotton sector to increase incomes and improve the living standards of all cotton growers. They are also active at the international level to eliminate the inequities of international trade. It is in these arenas that cotton growers are struggling to improve their incomes and livelihoods. Fairtrade does not address these fundamental inequities and power relations. The slim pickings of these programs are further evident in the very small amount of cotton produced and marketed as fair trade. Plans to expand production from less than 1% to 10% by 2012 are unrealistic in light of the introduction of genetically modified cotton and the limited market demand for fairtrade cotton. Despite these limitations, fairtrade cotton programs are producing some positive effects, notably women’s participation in cash crop cultivation, higher cotton quality, and the diffusion of organic farming techniques. An innovative direct marketing agreement linking the National Cotton Growers’ Union of Burkina Faso with the US women’s apparel company Victoria’s Secret indicates that alternative trading relations can be constructed outside the conventional commodity chain.