Buying into Fair Trade: Culture, Morality, and Consumption

Buying into Fair Trade: Culture, Morality, and Consumption

Buying into Fair Trade: Culture, Morality, and Consumption

Buying into Fair Trade: Culture, Morality, and Consumption

Synopsis

Stamped on products from coffee to handicrafts, the term "fair trade" has quickly become one of today's most seductive consumer buzzwords. Purportedly created through fair labor practices, or in ways that are environmentally sustainable, fair-trade products give buyers peace of mind in knowing that, in theory, how they shop can help make the world a better place. Buying into Fair Trade turns the spotlight onto this growing trend, exploring how fair-trade shoppers think about their own altruism within an increasingly global economy. a Using over 100 interviews with fair-trade consumers, national leaders of the movement, coffee farmers, and artisans, author Keith Brown describes both the strategies that consumers use to confront the moral contradictions involved in trying to shop ethically and the ways shopkeepers and suppliers reconcile their need to do good with the ever-present need to turn a profit. Brown also provides a how-to chapter that outlines strategies readers can use to appear altruistic, highlighting the ways that socially responsible markets have been detached from issues of morality. A fascinating account of how consumers first learn about, understand, and sometimes ignore the ethical implications of shopping, Buying into Fair Trade sheds new light on the potential for the fair trade market to reshape the world into a more socially-just place. a Keith Brown is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Excerpt

During my first night in the campo (countryside), I was alert to unfamiliar sounds: a bat flew in and out of my room, roosters crowed throughout the night, and a woman pounded fresh corn tortillas before the sun rose. My room looked like it had been used for storage before being converted into lodging for fair-trade ecotourists. It was damp because of the dirt floor and the incessant rain. The wooden walls were dilapidated and almost transparent. Unlike our host families, who had no such protections, my fellow travelers and I slept under nets to protect us from mosquitoes carrying malaria and dengue fever.

I later learned that the rest of our group was also experiencing culture shock. Stacey and Alyssa woke to the sound of a pig being slaughtered; Mike was surprised to see young children carrying machetes to work the coffee fields; and Christopher, somewhat arrogantly, I thought, expressed frustration at the unsanitary way food was being prepared, asking, “How much does bleach really cost?” Why, I wondered, had these fair-trade activists paid more than $1,200 for the chance to stay here?

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