Is Fair Trade an Idea, Movement, or…..?

Guest blogger Kevin Jackson shares with ITE readers how fair trade is portrayed in debates about the international economy.

Free trade is defined as the free flow of goods and services without any tariff or non-tariff barriers. Fair trade means that producers in developing countries are paid a fair wage for their goods, thus resulting in improved income and living conditions. Although fair trade is designed to remedy the flaws with free trade, it has faced criticism of its own.

Before going into the public critiques of fair trade, it is worth highlighting how fair trade is described in debates surrounding international trade.

Describing Fair Trade

Fair trade often refers to the idea of promoting social economic justice for producers in developing countries. According to Fairtrade USA:

We seek to empower family farmers and workers around the world, while enriching the lives of those struggling in poverty. Rather than creating dependency on aid, we use a market-based approach that empowers farmers to get a fair price for their harvest, helps workers create safe working conditions, provides a decent living wage and guarantees the right to organize. Through direct, equitable trade, farming and working families are able to eat better, keep their kids in school, improve health and housing, and invest in the future. Keeping families, local economies, the natural environment, and the larger community strong today and for generations to come; these are the results we seek through Fair Trade.

Fair Trade International refers to fair trade as a movement.

Fair Trade organizations and members of the grassroots Fair Trade movement…have been integral to the growth of Fair Trade for trade justice for farmers and workers around the world and to the rise of Fair Trade certification in the US.

Fair trade has also been described as a movement in the work of scholars. For example, San Jose State University Professor Colleen Haight writes:

Like many economic and political movements, the fair trade movement arose to address the perceived failure of the market and remedy important social issues.

Fair trade has also been described as a system. World Centric writes:

Fair Trade, is an alternative system of trade which counteracts this system of international free trade, corporate control and global policies by giving the farmers and workers a living wage for their work, which can sustain them and also create opportunities for social and economic development.

Some debates have not just focused on fair wages for farmers and clothing manufacturers in developing countries. Rather, they have also extended to the question of transparency in free trade agreements. Last year, the Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition’s call for fair trade referred to a democratic approach to free trade negotiations, i.e. transparency about what is actually being discussed (see TPP Protests: Not Anti-free trade but pro-free trade).


These descriptions are not mutually exclusive. Rather they are designed to merely illustrate the various ways in which fair trade has been characterized in current debates. Regardless of how fair trade is described, some have pointed to its positive characteristics while others highlights its limitations. In the second part of my piece on fair trade, I look at the existing arguments against fair trade as being an effective alternative that addresses poverty in developing countries.

Kevin Jackson has traveled throughout North America, the Caribbean and North Africa. Those experiences have made him an invaluable research assistant to International Trade Examiner since 2011.

Disclaimer: Guest posts solely reflect the work and ideas of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of International Trade Examiner.

Check back this week for an examination of how fair trade fares in one particular country. 

Other related posts:

TPP Protests: Not Anti-Free Trade, But Pro-Fair Trade Aug. 26, 2013

The TPP and the Fair Trade Debate Nov. 7, 2013

If free trade is truly beneficial, why do we need fair trade? Nov. 12, 2013


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About Dr. Sarita D. Jackson

is the President and CEO of the Global Research Institute of International Trade, a think-tank/consulting firm that examines trade policies and their impact on domestic businesses. Prior to heading GRIIT, Dr. Jackson was a tenured associate professor of political science in North Carolina and worked as a trade policy consultant for an Arlington-based consulting firm. She has participated in trade policy projects and conducted research on free trade negotiations in Botswana, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Mexico and Panama. Dr. Jackson has also traveled to Chile and Argentina to study their political systems and economic integration policies.
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