Mainstreaming Fair Trade: Adoption, Assimilation, Appropriation

Will Low and Eileen Davenport
Publication Date: 
Fair Trade is a global social movement that blends an alternative business model with explicit transformative objectives – a “business and campaign”. This paper explores the ways in which the movement challenges aspects of hegemony, including colonialism and free trade, to transform traditionally exploitative global production and trade relations.
We present a case that mainstreaming of Fair Trade into commercial distribution channels has not led to its principles being embedded in conventional trade. Instead, the dominant discourses of Fair Trade are currently assimilation, and appropriation or “Clean-wash”. Finally, we suggest ways in which elements of the movement have maintained their original counter-hegemonic character, taking Fair Trade beyond the current discourse of individuals “shopping for a better world” and into realms of collective decision making about consumption, and new producer / distributor relationships that challenge the distribution of value, through the “Alternative High Street”.