, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 297-309

Re-embedding global agriculture: The international organic and fair trade movements

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Abstract

The international organic agricultureand fair trade movements represent importantchallenges to the ecologically and sociallydestructive relations that characterize the globalagro-food system. Both movements critique conventionalagricultural production and consumption patterns andseek to create a more sustainable world agro-foodsystem. The international organic movement focuses onre-embedding crop and livestock production in ``naturalprocesses,'' encouraging trade in agriculturalcommodities produced under certified organicconditions and processed goods derived from thesecommodities. For its part, the fair trade movementfosters the re-embedding of international commodityproduction and distribution in ``equitable socialrelations,'' developing a more stable and advantageoussystem of trade for agricultural and non-agriculturalgoods produced under favorable social andenvironmental conditions. The international market forboth organic and fair trade products has grownimpressively in recent years. Yet the success of thesemovements is perhaps better judged by their ability tochallenge the abstract capitalist relations that fuelexploitation in the global agro-food system. While theorganic movement currently goes further in revealingthe ecological conditions of production and the fairtrade movement goes further in revealing the socialconditions of production, there are signs that the twomovements are forging a common ground in definingminimum social and environmental requirements. I arguefrom a theoretical and empirical basis that what makesfair trade a more effective oppositional movement isits focus on the relations of agro-food trade anddistribution. By demystifying global relations ofexchange and challenging market competitiveness basedsolely on price, the fair trade movement creates aprogressive opening for bridging the wideningNorth/South divide and for wresting control of theagro-food system away from oligopolistic transnationalcorporations infamous for their socially andenvironmentally destructive business practices.

This revised version was published online in May 2006 with corrected author information