Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 33, Issue 4, pp 813–826 | Cite as

Who’s the fairest of them all? The fractured landscape of U.S. fair trade certification

  • Daniel Jaffee
  • Philip H. Howard


In recent years, consumers in the United States have been confronted by no fewer than four competing fair-trade labels, each grounded in a separate certification system and widely differing standards. This fracturing is partly a response to the recent split by the U.S. certifier Fair Trade USA from the international fair trade system, but also illustrates longstanding divisions within the fair trade movement. This article explores the dynamics of competition among nonstate standards through content analyses of fair trade standards documents from the four U.S. fair-trade certifications for agrifood products (Fair Trade USA, Fairtrade America, Fair for Life, and the Small Producer Symbol). It analyzes the differences among them, asking what kinds of social and labor relations are facilitated by each, and identifies how closely they correspond with key fair trade principles. We make two primary arguments. First, we contend that the case of fair trade challenges the dominant conceptual model used to analyze competition among multiple private standards in a single arena, in which newer challengers lower the rigor of standards. Second, we argue that the current fractured U.S. certification landscape illuminates divisions among different interest groups over which principles—and which labor and production forms—should be privileged under the banner of fair trade.


Fair trade Standards Certification Agribusiness Plantations Smallholders Corporations 



Latin American and Caribbean Coordinator of Fair Trade Producers (Coordinadora LatinoAmericana y del Caribe de Pequeños Productores de Comercio Justo)


Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International


Fairtrade International


Fair Trade USA


International Federation of Alternative Traders


International Labor Organization


Institute for Marketecology


Nongovernmental Organization


Social Movement Organization


Small Producers’ Symbol (Símbolo de Pequeños Productores)


Transnational Corporation


World Fair Trade Organization


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyPortland State UniversityPortlandUSA
  2. 2.Department of Community SustainabilityMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA

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