Fair trade; yes? no? not yet? too late?

As a market organizer that created and ran a fair trade market in New Orleans for 5 years, I researched the idea heavily, many times while sitting at my neighborhood fair trade coffeehouse, Fair Grinds. I did find the fair trade argument thin in places, as it seemed to be more about a fuzzy mostly environmental rating on a bag and less about the part that a market organizer would focus on: that it offers more direct relationships with farmers and allows for a fairer accounting of labor and resource use. The painstaking knowledge of what it takes to farm and to survive in colonial regions is often reduced to a sepia toned photo of a farmer and a name on a sign. What is also interesting is that fair trade has not spread past commodities such as coffee and chocolate. Where is the fair trade wheat or sugar for example? And as more and more distributors enter the game, everyone it seems has at least 1 fair trade coffee on the shelf, often with very little paperwork or knowledge to support it. So, it seems to me to be have developed as more of a brand for consumers than a new values-based set of relationships. I will say, I continue to support my fair trade coffeehouse and purchase it when I can find it.
This article explains some of the weaknesses that it has as a movement, but I will say, their argument that it lacks a “single issue” focus is, in my mind not one of them. In any case, I appreciate the article and the magazine that published it.
Briarpatch

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