Fair trade is a social movement which sprang from an ideology of encouraging community development in some of the most deprived areas of the world (Brown, 1993, 2007). Its origins begin in the charity sector in 1960’s and 1970’s bringing craft products from rural Southern Hemisphere communities to the richer markets of the North and West (Davies, 2009; Moore, 2004). It coined phrases such as “working themselves out of poverty” and “trade not aid” as the mantras on which its future growth and public acceptance was built (Nichols and Opal, 2005; Raynolds et al., 2007). As it matured in the 1990’s and 2000’s it formalized the definitions of fair trade and set up independent governance and monitoring organizations to oversee fair trade supply-chain agreements and the licensing of a “Fairtrade Mark” to guarantee the ethical claims of participating organizations.
The recent growth of fair trade has gone hand-in-hand with a growth in partnering with mainstream corporate actors (Davies, 2009; Doherty and Tranchell, 2007; Moore, 2004; Nichols and Opal, 2005), with many in the fair trade movement perceiving engagement with the market mechanism as the most effective way of delivering societal change (Golding and Peattie, 2005, Lowe and Davenport, 2005a and 2005b, Moore, Gibbon and Slack, 2006). Many original 100% fair trade organisations (FTOs) regarded as social enterprises set out to change the way trade works, to stimulate the redistribution of wealth from northern brand owners back to the producer communities, as well as ensuring human rights, improving working conditions and sustained development in the South through increasing consumer awareness in the North (Hayes, 2006). Thus, a key aim in fair trade has been to challenge the existing economic, business and trading models to create a sustained shift towards more social awareness and concern in society (Davies, 2009; Renard, 2003). However, market changes in recent years have dramatically changed the composition of the fair trade market away from these specialist FTOs regarded as social enterprises to a plethora of other organisations with varying rationales for fair trade engagement.
The rapid growth of mainstreaming has led a number of authors to look at its pros and cons for fair trade (Bacon 2010, Golding 2009, Jaffee 2007, Lowe and Davenport 2005a, 2005b, Moore et al. 2006, Mutersbaugh et al. 2005, Raynolds et al. 2007, Reed 2009, Smith 2008, Tallontire 2009 and Wilkinson 2007). Despite strong evidence that the economic success of fair trade is due to it’s market orientated mainstreamed approach, many of these authors warn that uncritical engagement with mainstream business risks co-optation, dilution and reputational damage to the fair trade movement (Lowe and Davenport, 2005b; Jaffee and Howard; 2010; Moore et al, 2006; Murray et al, 2006; Taylor et al, 2005). On the other hand there has been the increased participation of producers in the governance of international Fair Trade institutions, the emergence of national and continental networks in both the South and the North, the development of producer-led certification schemes and the connection of Fair Traders with local (North or South) trading systems are a few of the many initiatives designed to intensify global connections.
Jaffee (2010) in particular discussed the challenges facing US fair trade regulatory authority Transfair and the negative implications of corporate engagement for the robustness of the fair trade accreditation process. These studies explore potential areas that have suffered dilution, co-optation or capture in regulatory authority. However these issues need consideration on not only a global regulatory authority level, but on a more micro level within the organizations actively involved in fair trade (especially in the original FTOs as the culture carriers of the original ideals) and the knock-on effect this has to consumers and the overall credibility and robustness of the system.
Hence there are tensions in the fair trade movement with regard to the future direction of fair trade, which recently came to the surface with the announcement in September 2011 by Fair Trade USA that it was resigning its membership of the Fair Trade Labelling Organisation (FLO) in order to develop its own fair trade label called; Fair Trade For All (FLO 2011). Differing perspectives on how best to achieve the mission of empowering producers was cited as the reason for this break away (FLO 2011). Therefore fair trade has reached key moment in its history, hence the need for this call for papers. This timely special issue on fair trade invites empirical and theoretical papers which critique underlying assumptions inherent in the existing literature. Suggested themes and topics include, but are not limited to:
• The nature of value chains in the mainstream
• How can supply chains enable producers and consumers to interact?
• How is supply chain governance organised? How is information exchanged?
• How is value distributed along the different fair trade value chains including social enterprises? What are the opportunities for producers to capture more value?
• What are the power relations of Fair Trade at the sites of production, circulation, retail and consumption?
• What consequences do standards and their implementation have on the relationships between producers, consumers and other actors within fair trade supply chains?
• To what extent have standards changed and how should they be set in the future?
• What is the possible role of public regulation/procurement schemes in relation to standards?
• How can Fair Trade be linked to local standards and promotion initiatives (e.g. support for small farmers, local trading systems, promotion of regional foods)?
• Which organizational/business models are best suited for Fair Trade practitioners in the North and the South? Do Fair Trade organizations evolve towards one dominant model, following “best practices”, or is there room for a diversified landscape?
• How do Fair Trade social enterprises set-up and grow?
• How can Fair Trade entrepreneurs achieve social, economic and environmental success?
• Are there lessons to be learned from the South by the North and vice versa?
• Does the impact on producers depend on the type of supply chain?
• How can impact be adequately assessed to take tangible (quantifiable; outcomes) and less tangible (qualitative; process; relationships) features into account?
• Does Fair Trade provide real empowerment or just access to global markets?
• How can we conceptualise Fair Trade's relationships with market, state, and civil society in the contemporary era?
• How does Fair Trade connect to corporations? How do we go beyond traditional debates on 'mainstreaming'?
• How does Fair Trade connect to public institutions and public policy at different levels (from supra to sub-national)?
• To what extent is Fair Trade (still) anchored in civil society and can it (still) be considered as a social movement?
• How is Fair Trade affiliated to concepts such as sustainable development, social entrepreneurship, the social/solidarity economy, cooperativism, etc.? How does it relate to religion and faith?
• How should we conceptualise the role of place and institution-based Fair Trade schemes in the global connections (i.e. Fairtrade Towns, Fairtrade Universities and Colleges, Fairtrade Schools, Fairtrade Places of Worship, Fairtrade Nations)?
Informal enquiries should be directed to the editors of this special issue including the editor of the Social Enterprise Journal Dr Bob Doherty on firstname.lastname@example.org and also guest editor Dr Benjamin Huybrechts (Assistant Professor), Centre for Social Economy at the University of Liege. The deadline for initial paper submissions is 1st August 2012.