Fair trade quality, market and conventions

Marie-Cristine Renard
Publication Date: 
This article analyzes Fair Trade, its evolution and the challenges it faces, in the light of the convention theory and its application to the ambit of agro-food.
The article reviews the different meanings and models of what has come to be called Fair Trade, since its beginning as alternative trade, considered as the prototype of a “civic coordination”, to its insertion into the large distribution channels through the labeling strategy, that is, when it is reinforced by “market coordination”. It discusses the possibility of Fair Trade being re-absorbed by the market logic and captured by the dominant actors of the food system who, attracted by its success, have already adopted strategies to win the promising niche market for themselves, while producers preoccupied with the struggle for survival and looking for the possibility of increasing sales volumes, require to move beyond the limits of marginal distribution circuits and to enter the market full steam. To counter this risk, one key element in strengthening Fair Trade is to empower the label as a base for network legitimacy and a product of social interaction. This means to reinforce the civic coordination by public authority through the state recognition and the institutionalization of their symbol. On the other hand, it is important not to lose sight of the social interactions on which Fair Trade was built and of the importance of mobilizing them, since those who control the mechanisms of this social interaction have the power to impose their legitimate vision of the quality. In this sense, the article integrates the issue of power largely forgotten in the studies on quality. - Fair Trade Resource Network Research Team.