Fairtrade, Certification, and Labor: Global and Local Tensions in Improving Conditions for Agricultural Workers
By Laura Raynolds
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.