Who’s the Fairest of Them All? The Fractured Landscape of U.S. Fair Trade Certification
Agriculture and Human Values
In recent years, consumers in the United States have been confronted by no fewer than four competing fair-trade labels, each grounded in a separate certification system and widely differing standards. This fracturing is partly a response to the recent split by the U.S. certifier Fair Trade USA from the international fair trade system, but also illustrates longstanding divisions within the fair trade movement. This article explores the dynamics of competition among nonstate standards through content analyses of fair trade standards documents from the four U.S. fair-trade certifications for agrifood products (Fair Trade USA, Fairtrade America, Fair for Life, and the Small Producer Symbol). It analyzes the differences among them, asking what kinds of social and labor relations are facilitated by each, and identifies how closely they correspond with key fair trade principles. We make two primary arguments. First, we contend that the case of fair trade challenges the dominant conceptual model used to analyze competition among multiple private standards in a single arena, in which newer challengers lower the rigor of standards. Second, we argue that the current fractured U.S. certification landscape illuminates divisions among different interest groups over which principles—and which labor and production forms—should be privileged under the banner of fair trade.
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Jaffee, D., & Howard, P. H. (2016). Who’s the fairest of them all? The fractured landscape of US fair trade certification. Agriculture and Human Values, 33(4), 813-826.