, Volume 86, Issue 1 Supplement, pp 27-49
Date: 29 Apr 2008

Ethical Value-Added: Fair Trade and the Case of Café Femenino

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This article engages various critiques of Fair Trade, from its participation in commodification to providing a cover for “Fair-washing” corporations, and argues that Fair Trade has the potential to answer the challenges contained within them if and when it initiates an ongoing process of developing the “ethical valued-added” content of the label. This argument is made in a number of ways. First, by distinguishing between economic and human development impacts and ethics, this article argues that these impacts are necessary but not sufficient conditions for ethical trade. Second, it engages the question of the possibility of ethical practice in economics generally; developing the idea that when economics is concerned with securing the material basis of a broad range of life capacities it becomes ethical. Third, Fair Trade practice itself is examined from this standpoint, and is conceived of as both comprising a promising ethical value-added practice as well as posing a problem in its current formulation that the framework of ethical value-added can help understand and resolve. Finally, an examination of these theoretical ideas in practice is undertaken through a case study of Café Femenino, a Fair Trade coffee produced in Peru. In conclusion it is argued that for Fair Trade to build upon its economic and human impacts, and therefore remain a meaningful ethical and economic alternative to corporate capitalism and globalization, it must distinguish itself clearly in ethics from those market relations it wishes, explicitly or implicitly, to challenge.