Fairtrade labelling merges its products onto the shelves of mainstream retail outlets by employing a hallmark device which distinguishes it from other Fair Trade models: product assurance. Fairtrade labelling does not vouch for the general business practices of the companies that trade and sell Fairtrade-labelled products, but rather it vouches for those associated with the trade of Fairtrade-labelled products. While ATOs make promises about their general business practices, the Fairtrade label simply promises to provide producers with better conditions relating to the trade of the products they sell as Fairtrade. Indeed, this is the key message provided by the Fairtrade label, conveyed to consumers every time they purchase a Fairtrade product: ‘FAIRTRADE guarantees a better deal for Third World Producers’.1 However, the device of product assurance in Fairtrade cannot be reduced to the label and its hopeful promise of ‘a better deal’ for producers. The label, or the product assurance it signifies, is underpinned by the Fairtrade standards and certification that give it meaning. These in turn are supported by Fairtrade governance structures. Accordingly, questions regarding multi-stakeholder participation need to be asked, to glean the level of ownership by different interest groups, including producers, of the process and the meaning of product assurance in Fairtrade. Likewise, an assessment of the relative compliance burdens imposed on stakeholders will allow some observations regarding the distribution of responsibilities that accompany Fairtrade product assurance, specifically analysing the burdens imposed on producers relative to traders.
KeywordsFair Trade Standard Committee Compliance Criterion Trade Standard Smallholder Producer
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