The study investigates whether Fair Trade Organizations (FTOs) are able to adhere to their principles of social justice and development goals as they enter mainstream markets which are dominated by neo-liberalism, unequal terms of trade and propagation of the "free market" principle. Through a case study of Kala-a craft marketing Fair Trade Organization in West Bengal, India, the paper shows shifts in the development of the FTO, the introduction of a certification regime and the emerging contradiction between the intentions of the FTO and its actual practice in the contemporary period. The implications of shifts in orientation from solidarity based notions of social justice to market oriented social justice, in particular on the weakest link and most vulnerable section who are women craft workers at the bottom of the production chain are investigated. A production chain analysis of handicraft production gives evidence of violation of FT principles and ILO's decent work norms and also reveals characteristics of the informal economy with producers having no entitlements to minimum wages, or social security benefits. There remains gender bias in the employment of women in the fair-trade production chain. The data shows that there is no challenge to gender segmentation and in fact a reinforcement of the feminine stereotype. Declining partnership with cooperatives, rising partnership with large scale NGOs and setting up of a Business Development Unit within the organization are some of the strategic shifts in the FTO. These shifts and the lack of implementation of FT principles indicate that the FTO is succumbing to the logic of the neo liberal mainstream market resulting in a drift away from the social justice principles within the Fairtrade Network. While onstage FTO's use the principle of "fairness" particularly in relation to Northern Corporations, this notion of fairness is not extended to the lower end producers through which they are expanding in the global market.

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Erasmus University Rotterdam
ISS Working Papers - General Series
ISS Working Paper Series / General Series
International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University (ISS)

Das, R. (2009). Compromising social justice in fairtrade?. ISS Working Paper Series / General Series (Vol. 467, pp. 1–44). Retrieved from