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Adding values to commerce : the complementary practices of fair trade intermediaries and co-operatives



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The fair trade movement attempts to use the market to bring about social change. Fair trade supports small-scale commodity producers in the global South by paying them a negotiated, fairer price. It also provides consumers with products that meet certain environmental, economic, and social criteria. While the primary goal of some fair trade enterprises is to provide market access for producers, others seek to reform the market, and still others would replace it. Like the fair trade movement, the co-operative movement strives to ensure that the benefits of production and exchange are more fairly distributed. Producer co-operatives in the South and consumer co-operatives in the North use aspects of globalization to create mutually beneficial links between producers and consumers. In some instances, these linkages are brokered by fair trade enterprises that are themselves organized as co-operatives, or are members of second-tier trading and distribution co-operatives.Most intermediaries are involved in fair trade for diverse reasons and act in ways that may have a range of consequences with respect to market reform and market access. This research investigates the activities of large and small co-operatives involved in fair trade to examine whether, and to what degree they contribute to market reform. Based on secondary sources and on interviews with member-owners of first and second-tier fair trade co-operatives, as well as several co-operative specialists, I conclude that although co-operatives rarely transform markets, they can and do help to reform the market while helping producers to gain access to it on more equitable terms. Some leading retail co-operatives actively support the fair trade movement, promoting the interests of producers and consumers through the exchange of good quality products, promoting a critical view of the conventional market, and advocating for change. Although none of the enterprises in this study has been able to substantially change the market through its own activities, they are part of the international movement to achieve a fairer globalization. Fair trade’s commercial success, however, has attracted transnational enterprises not committed to the philosophy of fair trade, and this may ultimately threaten its ability to achieve lasting market reform.



coffee, globalization, fair trade, co-operatives, intermediaries, chocolate



Master of Arts (M.A.)






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