Fair trade: market-based ethical encounters and the messy entanglements of living well
Fair trade certified exchanges are often cast as an ethical purchasing choice compared to those conducted as part of free trade. Producers are cast as members of marginalized communities who can ‘lift themselves out of poverty’ by producing for the certified market. Third-party certifiers claim that consumers can empower producers, reduce poverty, and improve communities through their purchases. Here, fair trade exchanges may be read as a site of ethical encounter. In this chapter I argue that despite attempts to cast fair trade as an ethical encounter, these claims are mired in a capitalocentric worldview that puts profit ahead of people. Drawing on the example of fair trade coffee, which is the most-traded certified product, I re-read fair trade to both illuminate the multiple economic identities and power relations within such exchanges, deconstruct its capitalocentric framing, and offer an avenue for finding hope in the messy entanglements of economic transactions.