Fairtrade, certification, and labor: global and local tensions in improving conditions for agricultural workers

Lead author: Laura Raynolds       Year: 2014       Methodology: Case study

ISO R&I Team Summary

This study looks at the impact of Fairtrade on labour rights using a case study in the flower production undustry in Ecuador. The analysis highlights how tensions between the traditional market (rooted in competition, efficiency and standardization) and alternative domestic and civil conventions (rooted in trust, personal ties and social benefits) have shaped Fairtrade engagement in the hired labour sector. The study merges a global and local analysis and uses a convention theory framework to illuminate the tensions inherent in Fairtrade's central ideas, practices and institutions.


Publication Abstract

A growing number of multi-stakeholder initiatives seek to improve labor and environmental standards through third-party certification. Fairtrade, one of the most popular third-party certifications in the agro-food sector, is currently expanding its operations from its traditional base in commodities like coffee produced by peasant cooperatives to products like flowers produced by hired labor enterprises. My analysis reveals how Fairtrade’s engagement in the hired labor sector is shaped by the tensions between (1) traditional market and industrial conventions, rooted in price competition, bureaucratic efficiency, product standardization and certification and (2) alternative domestic and civic conventions, rooted in trust, personal ties, and concerns for societal wide benefits. At the global level, these tensions shape Fairtrade’s global standard setting as reflected in Fairtrade’s recently revised labor standards. At the local level, these tensions shape the varied impacts of certification on the ground as revealed through a case study of certified flower production in Ecuador.


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  • Publication type:

    • Journal article
  • Other authors:

    • Laura Raynolds
  • Countries:

    • Ecuador