Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 499–511 | Cite as

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

  • Laura T. RaynoldsEmail author


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.


Fairtrade Fair trade Certification Standards Labor Ecuador Flowers 



Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International


Non-governmental organization



I gratefully acknowledge the National Science Foundation, SBE-Sociology Program (award 0920980) for funding research presented here, and to Erica Schelly for her able research assistance. I owe thanks to Emmanuelle Cheyns, Lone Riisgaard, Anne Tallontire, and Valerie Nelson and all the “Governing Sustainable Agriculture through Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives” workshop participants for their feedback on earlier versions of this paper. I am indebted to the Fairtrade and labor organization representatives and the Fairtrade certified farm managers and workers who helped inform this study. The views presented here are mine alone and should not be attributed to these individuals or organizations.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Fair and Alternative Trade and Sociology DepartmentColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA

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