Fair Trade and Eastern Caribbean Banana Farmers: Rhetoric and Reality in the Anti-Globalization Movement

By Moberg, Mark | Human Organization, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

Fair Trade and Eastern Caribbean Banana Farmers: Rhetoric and Reality in the Anti-Globalization Movement


Moberg, Mark, Human Organization


With the impending removal of tariff quotas that formerly guaranteed access to the UK market, the Eastern Caribbean banana industry faces the prospect of direct price competition with cheaper Latin American bananas. Some farming communities in the region have embraced Fair Trade as an alternative marketing strategy. Certified Fair Trade farmers receive higher prices than do conventional growers, as well as a social premium for local development. In exchange, they must conform to extensive social and environmental criteria. This article compares the rhetorical claims of the Fair Trade movement with the experiences of Fair Trade farmers on St. Lucia. By examining the price differential between conventional and Fair Trade fruit and appropriateness of certifying criteria, I offer a preliminary assessment of Fair Trade as a form of anti-globalization politics.

Key words: globalization, bananas, Fair Trade, Eastern Caribbean

Can you bite into your favorite chocolate bar and enjoy the pleasurable taste and feel with the knowledge that some people may have suffered intolerably in its production? And can you drink your morning tea or coffee with satisfaction when the plantation worker earns 20p [US .40] a day? [Buyers of Fair Trade Products] said it was much nicer to eat or drink a product without visualizing miserable boy slaves or exhausted women and men growing it or picking it for you and living in dire conditions.

Middleton Guardian, UK, October 8, 2003

The international Fair Trade movement represents a major departure from conventional methods of marketing agricultural commodities from countries of the South. Fair Trade initiatives challenge the arrangements under which many tropical food crops are produced and in their place encourage more socially- and environmentally-sustainable agriculture. They do so by marketing agricultural goods grown by family farmers, cooperatives, and ethically-run commercial farms as certified Fair Trade products. Consumers in the developed North pay more for such items than they would for the mass produced commodities distributed by global agribusiness corporations. The higher retail prices of Fair Trade goods in turn maintain higher producer prices for family farmers and living wages on larger enterprises. In addition, Fair Trade products are grown with a minimum of pesticide use under practices that maintain the integrity of watersheds and topsoils. Discursively, Fair Trade initiatives seek to define the relationship between consumers and producers in personalistic and reciprocal terms in place of the priorities of price and quantity that have historically governed market relations. In short, the Fair Trade movement claims to privilege the interests of small-scale producers and the environment over agribusiness corporations by encouraging alternatives to the socially- and ecologically-destructive practices of large-scale agriculture (Raynolds 2000).

The marketing of Fair Trade produce in the United States is largely confined to non-supermarket retailers, coffeehouses, and mail-order and on-line firms, still representing a minor, albeit growing, component of all imported commodities. In the United Kingdom, however, the Fair Trade movement has grown dramatically in recent decades, and now commands a sizeable share of all supermarket sales of coffee, cocoa and chocolate, tea, bananas, and other items. The recent liberalization of the global banana trade provides an opportunity to assess whether Fair Trade marketing can indeed sustain small-scale farming. The United Kingdom has long been the primary destination for bananas grown in the Eastern Caribbean, yet the region's family farmers are threatened by the impending elimination of tariff-quota preferences that secured them a share of the UK's market in the past. These threats originate in large part from the Chiquita corporation, on whose behalf the U.S. and Latin American governments challenged the tariff-quota system before the World Trade Organization. …

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Fair Trade and Eastern Caribbean Banana Farmers: Rhetoric and Reality in the Anti-Globalization Movement
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