Fair trade and Plantation Workers in Asia
By Rie Makita
In the agricultural sector of the global South, Fairtrade certification has aimed to benefit both landed small farmers through their cooperatives and landless workers through the plantations for which they work. Existing studies suggest that whereas Fairtrade has improved social conditions and collective capacity for workers in Latin America and Africa (e.g., Raynolds 2012; Valerie Nelson and Adrienne Martin’s chapter in this volume), Fairtrade has not helped workers in the hierarchical structure of tea plantations in India (Besky 2014). Conceding the limitations of Fairtrade in Asian plantations, in this chapter I argue that workers can turn such limitations to their own advantage and substantially benefit from Fairtrade within two different contexts in Asia. Some hired laborers in Asia make their living within the plantation system, while others seek opportunities in alternative contexts. To illustrate how Fairtrade certification can work for both groups, I draw on two case studies (Makita 2012; under review): 1) a tea plantation in India and 2) a cooperative of former sugarcane plantation workers in the Philippines. The first examines how current tea plantation workers take advantage of the invisibility of Fairtrade under the important patron–client power relations between plantation management and workers. The second evaluates how the former sugarcane plantation workers incorporate Fairtrade into their total livelihood strategies under a land reform program, especially by making certification-supported farming compatible with other livelihoods. Tea plantations in India are a legacy of the British colonial administration.