Center for Fair & Alternative Trade

Colorado State University


In press



Raynolds, Laura T. “Can Certification Increase Trade Fairness and Worker Empowerment? Lessons from Fairtrade International Certified Plantations in Ecuador.” International Sociology. 37 (6): 716-739, 2022.

This article analyzes the strategic potential and empirical challenges of private governance in promoting decent work in global agriculture by curtailing buyer power and fostering labor agency, drawing lessons from Fairtrade International-certified flower plantations in Ecuador. The study explains (1) Fairtrade’s logic in promoting ‘trade fairness’ and ‘worker empowerment’ and operationalization of these values via its certification standards, (2) the power relations shaping certification practices in global flower markets and Ecuadorian plantations, and (3) the grounded implications of participation for firms and workers. Important lessons emerge. First, while Fairtrade pursues a promising avenue for challenging the buyer control that erodes supplier and worker power, it has only marginally reduced floral buyer power due to retailer resistance, low-bar certification competition, and programmatic regulatory gaps. Second, although Fairtrade’s empowerment approach has strengthened labor agency within and beyond the workplace, bolstering individual empowerment has proved easier than fostering associational power. As I show, certification practices and outcomes are mediated by commodity-specific global market politics and localized enterprise, labor force, and legal contestations which explain why program aspirations are often not realized. Standard systems can reshape internal trade relations and organizations but cannot alone ensure global trade equity or robust labor representation.


Raynolds, Laura T. “Gender Equity, Labor Rights and Women’s Empowerment: Lessons from Fairtrade Certification in Ecuador Flower Plantations.” Agriculture and Human Values, 38: 657-675, 2021.

Certification programs seek to promote decent work in global agriculture, yet little is known about their gender standards and implications for female workers, who are often the most disadvantaged. This study outlines the gender standard domains of major agricultural certifications, showing how some programs (Fair Trade USA, Rainforest) prioritize addressing gender equality in employment and others (Fairtrade International, UTZ) incorporate wider gender rights. To illuminate the implications of gender standards in practice, I analyze Fairtrade certification and worker experience on certified flower plantations in Ecuador, drawing on a qualitative and quantitative field research study. (1) I show how Fairtrade seeks to bolster the wellbeing of female workers, addressing their workplace needs via equal employment, treatment, and remuneration standards and their reproductive needs via maternity leave and childcare services. My research demonstrates that for female workers, addressing family responsibilities is critical, since they shape women’s ability to take paid jobs, their employment needs, and their overall wellbeing. (2) I show how Fairtrade seeks to bolster the rights of women workers through individual and collective capacity building standards. My findings reveal how promoting women’s individual empowerment serves as a precondition for collective empowerment, and how targeting traditional labor rights is insufficient for empowering female workers, since their strategic choices are curtailed largely outside the workplace. While Fairtrade certification bolsters the wellbeing and rights of female workers in and beyond the workplace, much still needs to be done before women can claim their rights as workers and citizens.


Raynolds, Laura T. & Claudia Rosty “Fair Trade USA Coffee Plantation Certification: Ramifications for Workers in Nicaragua.” Development Policy Review 00: 1-20, 2020.

Motivation: Certification programmes shape global coffee production conditions. Fairtrade International oversees the major ethical coffee certification for small farmers. Since Fair Trade USA left the global system to certify coffee plantations in 2011 and now has its own standards, programme-specific research is needed to understand the implications of certification for workers.

Purpose: We provide the first academic analysis of Fair Trade USA’s coffee plantation certification to identify its key programmatic features and ramifications for workers, particularly how certification has affected workplace and employment conditions, workers’ wellbeing and labour rights.

Approach and methods: We analyse programme documents to explain Fair Trade USA’s standards and how they diverge from those of Fairtrade International. To demonstrate the impacts of Fair Trade USA certification, we draw on qualitative research on one of the first certified coffee plantations in Nicaragua, including interviews with managers and interviews and focus group discussions with workers.

Findings: Fair Trade USA has maintained key elements of Fairtrade International certification, but its labour rights standards are significantly weaker. In the Nicaraguan case, Fair Trade USA certification has fostered major improvements in workplace and employment conditions and some improvements in workers’ wellbeing through the Premium programme. Certification has not significantly advanced labour rights.

Policy implications: National conditions shape certification’s implications for workers, creating a central paradox. Fair Trade USA certification is likely to bring the greatest gains for workers where conditions are worst, where bringing plantations into legal compliance is a victory. The programme cannot pull workers out of poverty or guarantee decent work.


Weeks, Nefratiri & Laura T. Raynolds “Fair Trade Foods.” In H. Meiselman (ed.) Handbook on Eating and Drinking: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. New York: Springer, 2019.

This chapter discusses the fair trade movement as an institutionalized social movement attempting to correct the ethical and environmental concerns with globalized agro-food supply chains. Using institutional political economy and virtue ethics, the authors discuss the successes of consumers in creating mechanisms for recognizing ethically produced products in retail outlets and in creating institutions to support virtue oriented social action. The structure of global governance and capitalist production logics in global production networks are discussed as key sources of ethical ambiguity in the production of food and drink. Significant tensions and limitations in obtaining ethically produced products include the mainstreaming of the fair trade movement, the proliferation of ethical labeling and their adoption by conventional producers and retailers, and the structure of global governance as lacking accountability and failing to uphold social justice across the global North/South divide.


Raynolds, Laura T. & Nefratiri Weeks “Fairtrade Certification in Latin America: Challenges and Prospects for Fostering Development.” Pp. 374-386 in J. Cupples et al. (eds.) Routledge Handbook of Latin American Development. NY: Routledge, 2018.

Fair Trade critiques historical inequalities inherent in international trade and promotes the wellbeing of disadvantaged producers in the Global South. This chapter analyzes Fairtrade International certification and its efforts to foster development particularly in Latin America. Fairtrade certification originated in the labeling of coffee produced by Mexican cooperatives.  Although Fairtrade now encompasses 20 certified commodities produced in 53 countries which generate US$ 8 billion per year, Latin America remains the locus of production and coffee the most important product.  The chapter outlines Fairtrade’s successes and challenges in seeking to promote rural development in Latin America. In the short term, Fairtrade promotes wellbeing and empowerment by guaranteeing favorable prices for farmers, better wages for hired laborers, and a social premium to support community development.  Yet we argue that potentially more significant is Fairtrade’s long term impacts in promoting development though the capacity building support it provides to producer groups.  As we demonstrate, a central way in which Fairtrade International enhances development is by facilitating the availability of credit.  In addition to mandating that buyers provide pre-financing, Fairtrade certification enhances producers’ access to ethical and commercial lenders.  Fairtrade International has collaborated with ethical credit organizations to launch the Fairtrade Access Fund, a new source of long-term credit for producers on Latin America.  Though by no means a panacea, we conclude that Fairtrade provides an important avenue for helping to foster development in Latin America and around the world.

Raynolds, Laura T. Fairtrade Certification, Labor Standards, and Labor Rights: Comparative Innovations and Persistent Challenges.” Sociology of Development 4 (2): 191-216, 2018.

Fairtrade International is the primary social certification in the agro-food sector, working to promote the wellbeing and empowerment of farmers and workers in the Global South.  Although Fairtrade’s farmer program is well studied, far less is known about its labor certification. Helping fill this gap, this article provides a systematic account of Fairtrade’s labor certification system and standards and compares it to four other voluntary programs addressing labor conditions in global agro-export sectors.  The study explains how Fairtrade International institutionalizes its equity and empowerment goals in its labor certification system and its recently revised labor standards.  Drawing on critiques of compliance based labor standard programs and proposals regarding the central features of a beyond compliance approach, the inquiry focuses on Fairtrade’s efforts in promoting (1) inclusive governance, (2) participatory oversight, and (3) enabling rights.  I argue that Fairtrade makes important, but incomplete, advances in each domain, pursuing a worker enabling compliance model based on new audit report sharing, living wage, and unionization requirements and its established Premium Program. While Fairtrade pursues more robust beyond compliance advances than competing programs, the study finds that like other voluntary initiatives, Fairtrade faces critical challenges in implementing its standards and realizing its empowerment goals.

Keahey, Jennifer, Laura T. Raynolds, Sandra Kruger & Andries du Toit “Participatory Commodity Networking: An Integrated Framework for Fair Trade Research and Support.” Action Research 16 (1): 25-42, 2018.

This article discusses the potential for humanizing production and trade relations by extending action research to multilateral commodity networks. Participatory action research and Fairtrade certification both promote social justice, but the first faces difficulties in terms of scalability, while the second experiences challenges in terms of producer support. As conventional research has failed to deliver methods for improving services, we worked with small-scale farmers in South Africa’s rooibos tea industry to meet this gap. Responding to producer concerns regarding market and certification access, we conducted a participatory research, training, and networking program to establish a farmer leadership network within the rooibos industry. Despite the challenges involved in advancing participation in an arena marked by complex power relations, our work helped stakeholders establish trust, improve knowledge, and begin addressing issues. By incorporating commodity network analysis into action research methodology, our model facilitates both community and organizational development, offering a multilateral framework for collaborative inquiry.


Raynolds, Laura T. Fairtrade Labor Certification: The Contested Incorporation of Plantations and Workers.” Third World Quarterly 38 (7): 1473-1492, 2017.

Fair trade seeks to promote the wellbeing and empowerment of farmers and workers in the Global South.  This article traces the contested growth and configuration of Fairtrade International labour certification, providing a multifaceted and dynamic view of private regulation.  I explain why Fairtrade International began certifying large enterprises and how its hired labour strategy has developed over time, illuminating fair trade’s move from peasant to plantation sectors, stakeholder involvement in shaping the growth of Fairtrade labour certification, the internal and external balancing of farmer and worker concerns, and major innovations in Fairtrade’s ‘New Worker’s Rights Strategy.’  My findings challenge the claim that recent market mainstreaming explains the rise of labour certification within fair trade and the more general argument that private regulatory programs founded to foster empowerment evolve over time to prioritize a logic of control.  As I document Fairtrade International has recently moved to bolster producer power within its organization and labour rights within its certification program. My analysis reveals the dynamic nature of private regulatory programs and potentially influential role of diverse stakeholders in shaping the priorities of Fairtrade and other labour standard systems.

Raynolds, Laura T. “Bridging North / South Divides through Consumer Driven Networks.” Pp. 167-178 in B. Halkier, et al. (eds.) Routledge Handbook on Consumption. NY: Routledge, 2017.

Scholars and activists have sought to identify avenues for addressing rising global disparities, focusing largely on reconfiguring production.  This chapter shifts our focus to ask: How can consumers confront growing inequalities and foster global social justice through their consumption activities?  My analysis builds theoretically on political economy approaches to explaining North / South inequalities in production / consumption networks and social movement approaches to explaining the role of consumers and their actions in promoting global social justice.  Grounding this analysis empirically in the case of fair trade, I demonstrate the intersection of structural market forces and social movement agency and the promise and pitfalls for consumer driven networks in challenging global inequalities.  This chapter explains how fair trade, and Fairtrade International in particular, work to bridge Global North / South divides through consumer / producer networks, identifying the successes, but also the limitations in escaping colonial based trade relations, top-down regulation, corporate dominance, and the privileging of consumer purchasing power.


Raynolds, Laura T. and Elizabeth Bennett (eds). Handbook of Research on Fair Trade. Northhampton MA: Edward Elgar, 2015.

Raynolds, Laura T. and Elizabeth Bennett “Introduction to Research on Fair Trade.” Pp. 3-23 in L. Raynolds & E. Bennett (eds.) Handbook of Research on Fair Trade.  Northampton MA: Edward Elgar, 2015.

This chapter defines the empirical field of Fair Trade and reflects on the growth of research in this area.  We explain the Handbook’s organizing framework which divides the volume into sections on The Fair Trade Movement, The Business of Fair Trade, and Fair Trade and International Development.  We introduce the contents of the handbook identifying key themes and recurrent issues.

Raynolds, Laura T. and Nicholas Greenfield “Fair Trade: Movement and Markets” Pp. 24-44 in L. Raynolds & E. Bennett (eds.) Handbook of Research on Fair Trade.  Northampton MA: Edward Elgar, 2015.

This chapter analyzes the fair trade movement and market, focusing on the complex and contested nature of fair trade institutions, market relations, commodity networks, and production conditions. Our analysis shows how in each of these arenas social movement efforts to promote alternative relational and civic values are repeatedly challenged, but not subsumed, by dominant market forces seeking to advance conventional commercial and industrial interests. We identify major empirical patterns and key tensions in the: 1) shifting ideas, practices and institutions associated with fair trade’s recent growth; 2) growing distribution and consumption of largely certified products in mainstream markets; 3) decommodification and simultaneous recommodification of a growing array of fair trade products; and 4) production and export of fair trade products from certified cooperatives and increasingly from large hired labor enterprises. As we conclude, fair trade illuminates the promise and pitfalls in socially regulating global markets, as movement efforts move from social critique to socio-economic construction.

Elizabeth Bennett “Fairtrade International Governance.” Pp. 80-101 in L. Raynolds & E. Bennett (eds.) Handbook of Research on Fair Trade.  Northampton MA: Edward Elgar, 2015.

Social movements are known to be diverse, with actors setting disparate objectives, employing different tactics, and organizing with distinct logics. The variation in these attributes can present formidable challenges to coordination and cooperation. Such difficulties are evident in the creation of parallel leadership structures and fracturing of member organizations. Research on fair trade often focuses on these aspects of the movement. This chapter puts forth a history of the movement’s governance, with special attention to when and how producers of fair trade products have assumed positions of leadership. It then outlines arguments that have been made about the nature of governance in the fair trade movement—which are largely critical—and discusses each, drawing heavily on the historical account. A concluding section makes the following arguments: 1) that diversity, division and conflict have often-overlooked positive externalities; 2) that informal leadership and governance is not necessarily more democratic; and 3) that processes of institutionalization provide opportunities to democratize movement governance.

Dimitris Stevis “Global Labor Politics and Fair Trade.” Pp. 102-119 in L. Raynolds & E. Bennett (eds.) Handbook of Research on Fair Trade.  Northampton MA: Edward Elgar, 2015.

This chapter argues that Fairtrade International and global unions have furthered their engagement through the process leading to the revision of the Fairtrade’s Hired Labor Standards but that their relationship has not yet reached the level of global social dialogue and institutionalized industrial relations. Significant foundations have been built but important challenges need to be met. In the first part, I outline the process that has led to its most recent revision and the scope of the Standard. In the second part, I discuss global labor’s engagement with FI. In the subsequent three parts, I discuss, respectively, three core issues – international labor standards, employee organizations and the challenge of regulating the whole production network – issues which are at the heart of the discussions between unions and FI. I close with some suggestions for deepening this engagement in the direction of social dialogue and ‘mature industrial relations’.

Linton, April and Claudia Rosty “The US Market and Fair Trade Certified.” Pp. 333-354 in L. Raynolds & E. Bennett (eds.) Handbook of Research on Fair Trade.  Northampton MA: Edward Elgar, 2015.

Large-scale fair trade initiatives in the United States are younger than their European counterparts, and sometimes employ different strategies. Drawing on recent scholarship and interviews with stakeholders in the fair trade and workers’ rights movements, this chapter summarizes the history of fair trade in the US, discusses characteristics that make this market unique and how campaigns respond to them and considers current controversies around endeavors to ‘mainstream’ fair trade. What do the differences between US and other markets mean for those who are attempting to grow demand for fair trade in the US? Could fair trade scale up to supply US markets without diluting its core standards? To address these questions we draw on recent scholarship and interviews with advocates working to promote fair trade and workers’ rights in US communities, schools and businesses. We argue that the best strategies for growing fair trade in the US are (1) engaging with consumers as groups, not as individuals; and (2) messaging fair trade in a way that connects it to larger agendas that groups identify with, such as social justice or sustainability.

Keahey, Jennifer “Fair Trade and Racial Equity in Africa.” Pp. 441-456 in L. Raynolds & E. Bennett (eds.) Handbook of Research on Fair Trade.  Northampton MA: Edward Elgar, 2015.

African Fairtrade networks are challenging market and development practices historically framed by the institutions of slavery, colonialism and apartheid. While pan-African groups are opening domestic certified markets and pursuing South-South Fairtrade initiatives in order to transcend the colonial division of labor in the global economy, South African organizations are addressing racial disparities in post-apartheid agricultural production by instituting black economic empowerment protocols on certified estates. Yet despite the visibility of race within the South African discourse, the broader movement and literature tend to emphasize a generalized poverty framework, obscuring the persistence of deep-seated racial inequalities in agrifood systems. To address this gap I examine the question of racial equity in African Fairtrade at three levels of analysis: continental, national and local. Drawing from the scholarly literature, organizational interviews and participatory action research with small-scale rooibos tea farmers, I find that outcomes are neither black nor white: whereas African and South African organizations are pioneering solutions to the longstanding racial hierarchy in production and trade, local-level outcomes remain mixed. The rooibos case illustrates the issues producers of color are facing as they struggle to profit from certified markets, including inequitable resource distribution, divisive regulatory parameters and a tacit culture of soft paternalism. I conclude by arguing that if certifiers are to realize their promise of trading partnership, Fairtrade governance must institute more participatory forms of praxis that enable its members to develop a sense of interracial empowerment, ownership and solidarity.


Long, Michael A. & Douglas L. Murray. “Consumer Convergence and Collective Motivations for Purchasing Ethical Products.” Research in Rural Sociology and Development 21:185-207, 2014.

A robust literature has developed that demonstrates that ethical consumption, particularly “buycotts,” is on the rise. However, not much is known about (1) consumer convergence: do consumers who purchase one “ethical” product also purchase others, and (2) the degree to which ethical consumers make their purchasing decisions for collective reasons.

We attempt to fill this lacuna in the literature. This study uses results from a mail survey of a random sample of 500 Colorado residents to examine the degree of convergence between consumers of organic, fair trade, locally grown, animal friendly, made in the United States, and union made products with tetrachoric correlations coefficients and binary logistic regression models. We also investigate the degree of convergence between consumers who report holding collective motivations for purchasing ethical products through these same methods. Our findings indicate strong support for convergence between ethical consumers and consumers who believe they are acting collectively. The results suggest that many ethical consumers believe they are part of an “imagined community” of citizen consumers who through their joint purchasing decisions are critiquing and hopefully changing traditional production consumption commodity networks.

Raynolds, Laura T. Fairtrade, Certification, and Labor: Global and Local Tensions in Improving Conditions for Agricultural Workers.” Agriculture and Human Values 31 (3): 499-511, 2014.

A growing number of multi-stakeholder initiatives seek to improve labor and environmental standards through third-party certification. Fairtrade, one of the most popular third-party certifications in the agro-food sector, is currently expanding its operations from its traditional base in commodities like coffee produced by peasant cooperatives to products like flowers produced by hired labor enterprises. My analysis reveals how Fairtrade’s engagement in the hired labor sector is shaped by the tensions between (1) traditional market and industrial conventions, rooted in price competition, bureaucratic efficiency, product standardization and certification and (2) alternative domestic and civic conventions, rooted in trust, personal ties, and concerns for societal wide benefits. At the global level, these tensions shape Fairtrade’s global standard setting as reflected in Fairtrade’s recently revised labor standards. At the local level, these tensions shape the varied impacts of certification on the ground as revealed through a case study of certified flower production in Ecuador.

Raynolds, Laura T., Michael Long, & Douglas Murray Regulating Corporate Responsibility in the American Market: A Comparative Analysis of Voluntary Certifications.” Competition & Change 18 (2): 89-108, 2014.

 Voluntary standard and certification systems are proliferating in the United States and around the world. While the majority of certification research draws on case studies, we pursue a cross-sectional empirical analysis of an original database of 108 certifications operating in the United States. We analyse the rise and configuration of private regulatory initiatives, variations in programme breadth and focus, and variations in programme participation and oversight requirements. We highlight the predominance of international and multi-stakeholder initiatives in the United States. Our research identifies substantial convergence in the ecological and social priorities of certification programmes and even greater convergence in their assessment and oversight procedures. Statistical analysis helps explain the prevalence of multi-stakeholder initiatives, but we find no significant differences between these and industry-led initiatives in their foci or procedures. We argue that there is a standardisation of certification norms and practices which may mask important programme differences.

Raynolds, Laura T. and Jennifer Keahey. “Fair Trade: Social Justice and Production Alternatives.”  In M. Parker, G. Cheney, V. Fournier, and C. Land (eds.) In Routledge Companion to Alternative Organization. New York, NY: Routledge. 2014. 

This chapter analyzes Fair Trade’s contributions and challenges in developing alternative production and marketing networks.We focus particularly on movement and market dynamics as they relate to Africa since this region is currently experiencing the most rapid growth in the production of Fair Trade certified commodities.Our analysis highlights the dynamic tensions driving fair market divergence and convergence at transnational and regional levels. We ground our discussion with a case study of the South African Rooibos tea sector, where Fair Traders are striving to increase farm ownership and capacity among “emerging” farmers of color who historically have been denied access to agricultural land and markets. While Fair Trade offers opportunities for combating acute agriculture inequalities, production growth is increasingly being dominated by large hired-labor estates. We argue that Fair Trade’s production and marketing networks are not immune from mainstream market pressures, but there are nevertheless dynamic openings for emerging farmers and their organizations to refashion Fair Trade in South Africa and to shape alternative market networks at regional and international levels.


Long, Michael and Douglas Murray. Ethical Consumption, Values Convergence/Divergence and Community Development. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics. 26(2): 351-375, 2013.

Ethical consumption is on the rise, however little is known about the degree and the implications of the sometime conflicting sets of values held by the broad category of consumers who report consuming ethically. This paper explores convergence and divergence of ethical consumption values through a study of organic, fair trade, and local food consumers in Colorado. Using survey and focus group results, we first examine demographic and attitudinal correlates of ethical consumption. We then report evidence that while many organic, fair trade, and local food consumers converge around similar values, some Colorado consumers support only local food, while opposing the consumption of organic and fair trade products. Next, we investigate how ethical consumers who converge and diverge frame their commitment to consuming ethically. The discussion and conclusion suggest that community development planners of projects that focus on ethical consumption will need to successfully traverse issues stemming from convergence and divergence to enjoy long-term sustained success.


Raynolds, Laura T. Fair Trade Flowers: Global Certification, Environmental Sustainability, and Labor Standards.Rural Sociology 77 (4): 493-519, 2012.

This article analyzes the organization of the fair trade flower industry, integration of Ecuadorian enterprises into these networks, and power of certification to address key environmental and social concerns on participating estates. Pursuing a social regulatory approach, I locate fair trade within the field of new institutions that establish and enforce production criteria in international markets. My research finds that while firm owners and managers support fair trade’s environmental and social goals, these commitments are delimited by mainstream market expectations related to production efficiency and product quality. In environmental arenas, certification helps ensure that conditions exceed legal mandates and industry norms. In social arenas, certification helps ensure that labor standards exceed legal and industry expectations and funds important programs benefiting workers and their families. Where unions are absent, fair trade’s greatest impact may be in the establishment of workers’ committees that can build collective capacity. Although these new labor organizations face numerous challenges, they may strengthen the social regulation of global flower networks, making firms accountable to their workers as well as to nongovernmental organizations, retailers, and consumers.

Raynolds, Laura T. Fair Trade: Social Regulation in Global Food Markets. Journal of Rural Studies. 28 (3): 276–287, 2012.

This article analyzes the theoretical and empirical parameters of social regulation in contemporary global food markets, focusing on the rapidly expanding Fair Trade initiative. Fair Trade seeks to transform North/South relations by fostering ethical consumption, producer empowerment, and certified commodity sales. This initiative joins an array of labor and environmental standard and certification systems which are often conceptualized as “private regulations” since they depend on the voluntary participation of firms. I argue that these new institutional arrangements are better understood as “social regulations” since they operate beyond the traditional bounds of private and public (corporate and state) domains and are animated by individual and collective actors. In the case of Fair Trade, I illuminate how relational and civic values are embedded in economic practices and institutions and how new quality assessments are promoted as much by social movement groups and loosely aligned consumers and producers as they are by market forces. This initiative’s recent commercial success has deepened price competition and buyer control and eroded its traditional peasant base, yet it has simultaneously created new openings for progressive politics. The study reveals the complex and contested nature of social regulation in the global food market as movement efforts move beyond critique to institution building.

Bennett, Elizabeth. “Global Social Movements in Global Governance.” Globalizations 9 (6): 799-813.

Global social movements (GSMs) are networks that collaborate across borders to advance thematically similar agendas throughout the world and in doing so have become powerful actors in global governance. While some scholars argue that GSMs contribute to democracy in the global arena, others insist GSMs have their own representational shortcomings. Both sets of scholars examine the general ways in which GSMs organize members, aggregate interests, and distribute power and resources. However, such features may not be uniform across GSMs. This article argues that in order to assess the affect of GSMs on global governance, scholars must analyze the representational attributes of individual GSMs. The article offers such a framework, using the case of the fair trade movement. The key insight offered is that a small number of institutions sometimes become dominant in a diverse movement, framing the movement to the public in a particular way, and exercising disproportionate influence within the movement. By evaluating the democratic qualities of these institutions, and the degree to which they do or do not represent the broader movement, scholars can evaluate the relationship between GSMs and global governance. The article concludes with a discussion of what representational deficiencies in GSMs may mean for global governance.


Keahey, Jennifer A., Littrell, Mary A., and Douglas L. Murray. Business with a Mission: The Ongoing Role of Ten Thousand Villages within the Fair Trade Movement. Pp. 265-283 in A.E. Weaver (ed.) A Table of Sharing: Mennonite Central Committee and the Expanding Networks of Mennonite Identity. Telford, PA: Cascadia, 2011.

In recent years, fair trade has evolved from a relatively obscure social movement into a powerful market-based mechanism for social change. Although social justice concerns remain central to the broader movement, fair trade food and handicrafts have developed into two distinct market sectors with separate governance structures. These changes have led to a number of tensions deriving largely from efforts to transform global trade by operating from within the marketplace. Using the case of Ten Thousand Villages, we argue that fair trade tensions are not necessarily a negative force, but rather an indicator of movement resiliency and opportunity. As a pioneer in fair trade handicrafts, Villages has sought to meet both market and movement goals through its business-with-a-mission approach. We conclude by examining the role that Villages’ leaders are playing in global fair trade governance. Noting that the food and handicraft sectors have recently articulated a platform for renewed movement solidarity, we argue that fair trade may more effectively engage in political advocacy campaigns and thus emerge as the global leader in trade accountability.


Raynolds, Laura T. and Siphelo U. Ngcwangu. Fair Trade Rooibos Tea Networks: Connecting South African Producers and American Consumer Markets.” Geo-Forum. 41 (1): 74-83, 2010.

This article analyzes the recent growth and configuration of Fair Trade networks connecting South African Rooibos tea producers with American consumer markets. As we demonstrate, Fair Trade’s growth in the Rooibos sector engages key issues of black empowerment, land reform, and sustainable development in post-Apartheid South Africa. Fair Trade networks provide small-scale black Rooibos producers with critical markets. Most significantly, the Wupperthal and Heiveld cooperatives have upgraded into processing and packaging and their jointly owned Fairpackers facility now exports shelf-ready Rooibos tea. Analyzing the nature of US Fair Trade Rooibos buyers and their South African sourcing arrangements, we identify key variations in Fair Trade commitment and engagement between mission-driven and market-driven distributors. While mission-driven buyers engage small-scale Rooibos cooperatives in multifaceted partnership networks, market-driven buyers pursue conventional sourcing strategies favoring purchases from large plantations and exporters. We conclude that tensions between a radical and commercial orientation toward Fair Trade in Rooibos tea networks in many ways mirror those in the broader movement.


Raynolds, Laura T. Mainstreaming Fair Trade Coffee: From Partnership to Traceability. World Development. 37 (6): 1083-1093, 2009.

This article analyzes the recent growth of Fair Trade and the mainstreaming of this previously alternative arena. Focusing on coffee, I identify a continuum of buyers ranging from “mission-driven” enterprises that uphold alternative ideas and practices based on social, ecological, and place-based commitments, to “quality-driven” firms that selectively foster Fair Trade conventions to ensure reliable supplies of excellent coffee, to “market-driven” corporations that largely pursue commercial /industrial conventions rooted in price competition and product regulation. Using a commodity network approach, my analysis illuminates the impacts of diverse buyer relations on producer groups and how relations are in some cases shifting from partnership to traceability.

Raynolds, Laura T. Development: Fair Trade.” Pp. 8-13 in R. Kitchen & N. Thrift (eds) International Encyclopedia of Human Geography Vol. 1. Oxford: Elsevier, 2009.

Fair trade as a concept refers to a critique of the historical inequalities inherent in international trade and to a belief that trade can be made more socially just. In the current era, fair trade refers to a set of initiatives that challenge global inequalities and create more egalitarian commodity networks linking marginalized producers in the global South with progressive consumers in the global North. Fair trade seeks to alleviate poverty and empower producers in the global South through the provision of better prices, stable market links, and other material and informational resources. Fair trade also seeks to bolster responsible consumption practices among Northern consumers by encouraging the purchase of items that are produced and traded under more equitable conditions. At the broadest level, fair trade seeks to eliminate North–South trade inequalities.


Raynolds, Laura T. and Jennifer Keahey. Fair Trade, Gender, and the Environment in Africa. Ch. 17 in K. Gallagher (ed.) Handbook on Trade and Environment. New York: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2008.

The Fair Trade movement raises an important challenge to the ecologically and socially destructive relations which characterize the conventional global food system. Fair Trade critiques dominant agricultural production and trade patterns and seeks to create more sustainable global food networks. This chapter analyzes the politics of Fair Trade’s efforts to narrow the global North /South divide, focusing particularly on the case of Africa. Since Africa is one of the most disadvantaged regions in the world and has in recent years seen the largest growth in Fair Trade production, this regional focus highlights both the promise and the challenges of enhancing trade justice. As we demonstrate, Fair Trade is closely linked to organic initiatives in seeking to halt environmental degradation and support more sustainable practices in agro-export sectors. Linking environmental and social improvements, Fair Trade works explicitly to bolster gender equity and democratic relations among producer groups and these linkages have often taken a distinctive turn within the African context. Though by no means a panacea, we conclude that Fair Trade provides an important avenue for addressing critical environmental and social problems in the world today.

Raynolds, Laura T. The Organic Agro-Export Boom in the Dominican Republic: Maintaining Tradition or Fostering Transformation? Latin American Research Review. 43 (1): 161-184, 2008.

The Dominican Republic has emerged as the world’s foremost exporter of organic bananas and cocoa, a top exporter of organic coffee, and an export pioneer in new commodities like organic mangos. Pursuing a contextualized commodity network approach, I explain the rise of organic products within the broader forces fueling nontraditional agro-export growth and identify the key factors configuring organic export networks today. The article analyzes the implications of global organic market trends for Dominican exports and for the thousands of small producers involved. My research finds that despite their historical prominence, rising international competition and buyers’ quality expectations are working to displace or disempower small Dominican organic producers. Strong producer associations and transnational movement ties are critical in shoring up the position of small organic producers in the Dominican Republic and may be similarly crucial in other Latin American countries.


Raynolds, Laura T., Douglas Murray and Andrew Heller. Regulating Sustainability in the Coffee Sector: A Comparative Analysis of Third-Party Environmental and Social Certification Initiatives. Agriculture and Human Values 24: 147-163, 2007.

Certification and labeling initiatives that seek to enhance environmental and social sustainability are growing rapidly. This article analyzes the expansion of these private regulatory efforts in the coffee sector. We compare the five major third-party certifications—the Organic, Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, Utz Kapeh, and Shade/Bird Friendly initiatives—outlining and contrasting their governance structures, environmental and social standards, and market positions. We argue that certifications that seek to raise ecological and social expectations are likely to be increasingly challenged by those that seek to simply uphold current standards. The vulnerability of these initiatives to market pressures highlights the need for private regulation to work in tandem with public regulation in enhancing social and environmental sustainability.


Raynolds, Laura T. “Organic and Fair Trade Movements in Global Food Networks.” Pp. 49-62 in S. Barrientos and C. Dolan (eds) Ethical Sourcing in the Global Food System. London: Earthscan, 2006.

The international organic agriculture and fair trade movements represent important challenges to the ecologically and socially destructive relations that characterize the international food system. Both movements critique conventional agricultural production and consumption patterns and seek to create more sustainable global food networks. While the organic movement goes further in addressing the ecological costs of production and the fair trade movement goes further in addressing the social costs of production, the two movements have together helped shape a common definition of minimum social and environmental standards. I argue from a theoretical and empirical basis that what makes fair trade a more effective oppositional movement is that it moves beyond the realm of production to question trade relations. By demystifying global relations of exchange and challenging market competitiveness based solely on price, the fair trade movement creates a progressive opening for bridging the widening North-South divide and for wresting control of the food system away from transnational corporations infamous for their socially and environmentally destructive business practices.

Murray, Douglas L., Laura T. Raynolds and Peter L. Taylor. The Future of Fair Trade Coffee: Dilemmas for Latin America’s Small-Scale Producers.Development in Practice 16 (2): 179-192, 2006.

Fair Trade has become a dynamic and successful dimension of an emerging counter tendency to the neo-liberal globalization regime. This study explores some of the dilemmas facing the Fair Trade movement as it seeks to broaden and deepen its impact among the rural poor of Latin America’s coffee sector. We argue that the efforts to broaden Fair Trade’s economic impact among poor small scale producers are creating challenges for deepening the political impact of a movement based on social justice and environmental sustainability. The study is based on 2 years of research and 7 case studies in Mexican and Central American small scale farmer cooperatives producing coffee for the Fair Trade market.


Taylor, Peter Leigh, Douglas L. Murray and Laura T. Raynolds. “Keeping Trade Fair: Governance Challenges in the Fair Trade Coffee Initiative.Sustainable Development 13: 199-208, 2005.

Fair Trade has gained attention as an innovative market-based mechanism for addressing social and environmental problems exacerbated by conventional global markets. Yet such initiatives are also regulatory mechanisms that establish voluntary alternative arrangements for governing production, commercialization and consumption of global commodities. Based on a recent study of Fair Trade coffee experiences in Latin America, this paper explores the changes Fair Trade represents in governance of the coffee commodity chain. It argues that Fair Trade coffee governance is shaped both by formal organizational arrangements for coordination and control and less formally, by the social and political relations embedded in Fair Trade’s commodity chain. Fair Trade’s alternative governance arrangements represent one of the initiative’s major accomplishments but also pose some of its most significant challenges for the future.


Raynolds, Laura T., Douglas Murray and Peter Leigh Taylor. “Fair Trade Coffee: Building Producer Capacity via Global Networks.” Journal of International Development, 16: 1109-1121, 2004.

This article examines the ongoing rapid expansion in Fair Trade coffee networks linking Northern consumers with producers in the global South. We provide a comparative analysis of the experiences of seven coffee producer co-operatives in Latin America, identifying the characteristics which facilitate successful integration into Fair Trade networks. Our analysis finds that coffee organizations, communities and producers derive important material and non-material benefits from Fair Trade. We conclude that while the financial benefits of Fair Trade appear the most important in the short run, it is the capacity building nature of Fair Trade that will prove the most important in fueling sustainable development in the long run.

Raynolds, Laura T. The Globalization of Organic Agro-Food Networks.World Development 32 (5): 725-743, 2004.

This article analyzes the booming world trade in organic agro-foods such as tropical products, counterseasonal fresh produce, and processed foods. Research focuses on expanding South–North networks linking major US and European markets with major production regions, particularly in Latin America. Employing a commodity network approach, I analyze organic production, distribution, and consumption patterns and the roles of social, political, and economic actors in consolidating international trade. Organic certification proves central to network governance, shaping product specifications, production parameters, and enterprise participation. My analysis identifies key contradictions between mainstream agro-industrial and alternative movement conventions in global organic networks.


Raynolds, Laura T. The Global Banana Trade. Pp. 23-47 in M. Moberg and S. Striffler (eds.) Banana Wars: Power, Production, and History in the Americas. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003.

This chapter analyzes competing global and regional attempts to regulate the world banana market. I argue that the ongoing trade dispute, the “Banana Wars,” is best understood as a conflict between two historically constituted commodity systems: the US centered “Dollar Banana” system and the “ACP Banana” trade between Europe and its former African, Caribbean, and Pacific colonies. Using a comparative commodity system approach, I outline the divergent trade geography, state sponsorship, corporate involvement, social relations of production, and environmental conditions characterizing each of these production systems. I highlight the role of political contingency in the global organization of the banana industry and demonstrate how Dollar and ACP Bananas have been socially defined as distinct commodities. The fate of bananas is currently being hotly contested by international organizations, regional trading blocs, national governments, transnational corporations, producer associations, labor, and community groups. I conclude that the Fair Trade Banana system could represent an important countermovement to historically destructive relations in the banana trade.


Raynolds, Laura T. Consumer/Producer Links In Fair Trade Coffee Networks. Sociologia Ruralis 42 (4): 404 – 424, 2002.

This article analyzes the multifaceted connections linking consumers and producers in expanding North/South Fair Trade coffee networks. I develop a commodity network framework that builds on the commodity chain tradition, integrating insights from cultural studies, actor–network theory, and conventions approaches. This framework illuminates how material and ideological relations are negotiated across production and consumption arenas. In the case of Fair Trade, progressive ideas and practices related to trust, equality, and global responsibility are intertwined with traditional commercial and industrial conventions. As I demonstrate, the negotiation of these divergent conventions shortens the social distance between Fair Trade coffee consumers and producers. I conclude that by re–linking consumers and producers, commodity network analysis provides a robust entré for academic inquiry and engagement in alternative food politics.


Raynolds, Laura T. “Re-Embedding Global Agriculture: The International Organic and Fair Trade Movements.Agriculture and Human Values 17:297-309, 2000.

The international organic agriculture and fair trade movements represent important challenges to the ecologically and socially destructive relations that characterize the global agro-food system. Both movements critique conventional agricultural production and consumption patterns and seek to create a more sustainable world agro-food system. The international organic movement focuses on re-embedding crop and livestock production in “natural processes,” encouraging trade in agricultural commodities produced under certified organic conditions and processed goods derived from these commodities. For its part, the fair trade movement fosters the re-embedding of international commodity production and distribution in “equitable social relations,” developing a more stable and advantageous system of trade for agricultural and non-agricultural goods produced under favorable social and environmental conditions. The international market for both organic and fair trade products has grown impressively in recent years. Yet the success of these movements is perhaps better judged by their ability to challenge the abstract capitalist relations that fuel exploitation in the global agro-food system. While the organic movement currently goes further in revealing the ecological conditions of production and the fair trade movement goes further in revealing the social conditions of production, there are signs that the two movements are forging a common ground in defining minimum social and environmental requirements. I argue from a theoretical and empirical basis that what makes fair trade a more effective oppositional movement is its focus on the relations of agro-food trade and distribution. By demystifying global relations of exchange and challenging market competitiveness based solely on price, the fair trade movement creates a progressive opening for bridging the widening North/South divide and for wresting control of the agro-food system away from oligopolistic transnational corporations infamous for their socially and environmentally destructive business practices.

Murray, Douglas L. and Laura T. Raynolds. Alternative Trade in Bananas: Obstacles and Opportunities for Progressive Social Change in Global Economy. Agriculture and Human Values 17:65-74, 2000.

Fair trade bananas are the latest in an increasing array of commodities that are being promoted by various organizations in an effort to create alternative production and consumption patterns to the environmentally destructive and socially inequitable patterns inherent in traditional production and trade systems. Fair trade is touted as a strategy to achieve more sustainable development through linking environmentally and socially conscious consumers in the North with producers pursuing environmentally sound and socially just production practices in the South. Promotion of fair trade bananas in Europe has achieved impressive initial gains on the consumer end of the commodity chain, capturing 10 percent or more of the banana trade in several countries. Yet in spite of these gains, the fair trade banana initiative appears to been countering serious obstacles to its further success. We argue that the primary challenge in creating a truly alternative trade in bananas stems from the difficulties of upholding rigorous social and environmental standards in the face of increasing inroads into fair trade markets by transnational corporations producing under less rigorous conditions. We then develop a series of options for strengthening fair trade banana initiatives in both Europe and North America. We conclude by arguing that the case of bananas illuminates the general question of how to achieve more progressive and sustainable production and consumption systems within a global system that drives production and consumption toward greater integration and homogenization under the control of transnational corporations.

Back to Research • Home