|Fair Trade Rebels: Coffee Production and Struggles for Autonomy in Chiapas
Is fair trade really fair? Who is it for, and who gets to decide? Fair Trade Rebels addresses such questions by shifting the focus from the abstract concept of fair trade--and whether it is "working"--to the perspectives of small farmers. It examines the everyday experiences of resistance and agricultural practice among the campesinos/as of Chiapas, Mexico, who struggle for dignified livelihoods in self-declared autonomous communities in the highlands, confronting inequalities locally while participating in a global corporate agricultural chain. Fair Trade Rebels draws on stories from Chiapas that have emerged from the farmers' interaction with both the fair-trade-certified marketplace and state violence. The book addresses the racialized and historical backdrop of coffee production and rebel autonomy in the highlands, underscores the divergence of movements for fairer trade and the so-called alternative certified market, traces the network of such movements from the highlands and into the U.S., and evaluates existing food sovereignty and diverse economic exchanges. Putting decolonial thinking in conversation with diverse economies theory, the author evaluates fair trade not by the measure of its success or failure but through a unique, place-based approach that expands our understanding of the relationship between fair trade, autonomy, and economic development.
|Fair trade coffee exchanges and community economies
Despite the shortened commodity chain created for coffee through fair trade, there still exist a number of actors within certified commodity exchange. This chain is populated by disproportionately engaged actors, from a consumer looking for the certification seal, to coffee roasters working directly with coffee producing cooperatives, to producers striving to keep up with the standards for certification. Despite such disparities, connections are made between the roasters and the growers of coffee at multiple sites, from community-based projects to the transfer of knowledge and storytelling beyond the communities where coffee is cultivated. These connections suggest that fair trade exchanges potentially go beyond the sale of a commodity, the creation of surplus value and the connecting of producer and consumer. In this paper I draw on the expanding literature on diverse and community economies to examine fair trade exchanges. The heterogeneous space of the community economy provides a platform for considering the diversity of exchanges happening within, outside and alongside capitalism. In this paper I focus on fair trade certified coffee, moving beyond current explanations of fair trade as ‘alternative’ and working toward a multiplying of our understanding(s) of what fair trade is.
|Auditing the subjects of fair trade: Coffee, development, and surveillance in highland Chiapas
Fair trade certification is a mechanism used by coffee cooperatives to assist farmers with accessing cash income and securing a better price for their product. Third-party certifiers regulate the fair trade label, which is tied not only to price, but also to standards for production and development. In this paper I examine these standards as they are deployed in self-declared autonomous communities in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico. I argue that third-party certifiers through enforcement of standards, and surveillance attempt to create a producer subject who becomes “fixed” through certification. Drawing from fieldwork with the coffee cooperative Maya Vinic, I provide an example of how farmers negotiate larger political commitments and livelihood strategies while engaging in coffee production. Members of Maya Vinic reside in communities that have declared autonomy from the Mexican state and neoliberal market. These political commitments draw a tension into the landscape as farmers commit land and time to coffee while maintaining subsistence production. Through an examination of the annual fair trade audit, I detail this contradiction as it plays out in the highlands. I conclude that new lines of inquiry must be established that take into account place-based politics as they intersect with fair trade certification.
|“Some are more fair than others”: fair trade certification, development, and North–South subjects
At the same time as fair trade certified products are capturing an increasing market share, a growing number of scholars and practitioners are raising serious questions about who benefits from certification. Through a critique of north–south narratives, this paper draws on contemporary themes in fair trade scholarship to draw out different ways of thinking about fair trade outside of the dichotomous north–south framing. I argue that, through the creation of fair trade subjects of the ‘‘global north’’ and ‘‘global south,’’ certification has normalized and naturalized dichotomous power relations. The primary concern of this paper is to demonstrate the problems with situating certification and scholarship in the north–south binary and to push examination toward a more nuanced analysis of how certification and development are shaped in-place. This intervention is important for assisting with stepping away from long-standing debates regarding the effectiveness of certification, and additionally in contributing to critical thinking on economic development more broadly.