Chapter 12: Cooperatives, corporations and fair trade
Fair trade is one of the most prominent socio-economic development initiatives of the past several decades. The nature of its contributions to development, however, are contested, with some advocates claiming that it re-embeds the economy back into society, while critics argue that it functions to legitimatize a larger, neoliberal globalization project. What cannot be disputed about fair trade is the fact that it has become an increasingly complex practice over the years. This complexity, along with different normative conceptions of development, helps to account for the radically different evaluations of fair trade. The premise of this chapter is that a more nuanced analysis of the complex nature of fair trade, especially the relationships between its key economic actors, cooperatives and corporations, can provide better insights into its functioning and its potential for promoting development. In taking up such an analysis, this chapter restricts its scope to the Fairtrade network associated with Fairtrade International. Two primary characteristics contribute to the economic complexity in Fairtrade, namely different norms of behavior and the variety of firms involved. For ease of presentation, this chapter abstracts from the wide diversity within Fairtrade by distinguishing two sets of norms (namely, fair trade principles and minimum standards) and two types of firms (namely, cooperatives and corporations).
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