Fair trade’s split analysed, how to define positive corporate behaviour and the potential mobile money transfer bonanza in Africa

Fair trade schism

Fair trade is all about helping poor farmers, right? You’d think so. And it is. What began as an experiment to help a handful of coffee growing cooperatives in Oaxaca, Mexico, now extends to 1.3 million producers in 70 countries. Yet a split in 2011 between the movement’s two big players – the UK-based Fairtrade International and Fair Trade USA – has raised a fundamental question: is fair trade really about farmers, or is it more about the consumer (who, in various degrees, is interested in the farmers’ welfare)?

Philippe Rosinski’s work on cultural orientation demonstrates the divided characteristics between the two factions. On the one hand, Euro-centric Fairtrade International is pro-state, pro-collective-action and anti-globalisation. On the other, Fair Trade USA is presented as pro-market, pro-individual-control and in favour of the current economic system. The result is a fundamental dispute over the function of fair trade. The former sees it as an opportunity for consumers to show solidarity with farmers and to challenge the powers that control international trade. The latter views it as a conduit to get as many fairly-traded goods to consumers as possible, thus helping farmers along the way.

The two positions derive from markedly...

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