Fair Trade: A Moral Economy?

22 May 2009

CRASSH, 17 Mill Lane

Registration for this Workshop is now closed.


CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY BUSINESS & SOCIETY RESEARCH GROUP

 Web-Page  http://www.crassh.cam.ac.uk/page/186/business-and-society.htm

International Workshop

Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH)

THEME

"Fair Trade guarantees a better deal for Third World producers" – this is the consumer promise that the Fairtrade certification mark is premised upon – but can this project change the rules of the economic game?
Market rationality is based on the imperative of profit maximisation and the assertion that the price mechanism, celebrated as the "invisible hand" of the market, transforms individual greed into social welfare. If not the alarming degree of social and economic inequalities, it is certainly the shock of the current financial crisis that challenges the self-healing powers of global capitalism and reopens the debate on market regulation. Who is accountable for the excesses of global capitalism, and who is responsible for preventing them? One could argue, and the philosopher/cultural theorist Slavoj Žižek does so, that it is indeed the invisibility of the forces driving market dynamics that account for a lack of responsibility. Against the anonymity of global economic relations and its resulting faceless forces governing global supply chains, Fairtrade proposes an alternative mechanism that facilitates individual consumers to take immediate action against the headless dynamics of the market logic. Most notably, by setting a minimum price for commodities, Fairtrade contests the justice of the price as the market's coordination mechanism and aims to intervene into the dynamics of the "invisible hand". With Fairtrade, it is claimed, individual consumption choices can make a real difference to the way that global market operates. Through ethical labelling systems consumers are supposed to take moral responsibility for their economic actions: as such, Fairtrade becomes the guarantor for turning the consumers' purchasing power into a tangible contribution to socio-economic development. 
 
With the creation of the Fairtrade certification mark, the fair trade movement has become increasingly successful in mobilising support through the market. Regarding the presence the label has gained in some consumer countries it would be surprising if it had remained untouched by social and economic critiques. And given its contradictory starting position of being "in and against" the market, Fair Trade will almost certainly never appease its critics. In fact, Fair Trade has come under attack from voices from both the left and right. Taking a radical left perspective, the promise of a moral economy of "caring" and "responsibility" is seen to provide the reconciliation with the world that sanctifies our advanced capitalist lifestyle by the hope for a "forever to-come" world of global justice. Fair Trade hence is the perfect embodiment of what Boltanski and Chiapello have named the New Spirit of Capitalism: the capitalist response to growing anti-capitalist and ecological critique that, ultimately, sustains the functioning of market ideology. Taking a neoliberal perspective, such as the Adam Smith Institute, Fair Trade is an intervention that distorts the natural forces of the market. In summary, Fair Trade is either doing not enough or already too much. We seek neither a condemnation nor defence of Fairtrade. Instead, the work shop invites a reflection on the intersection of markets and ethics. It provides an interdisciplinary forum to openly confront these positions and to discuss the prospects of Fair Trade as a practical attempt to change the rules of the competitive market system.

ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION

- Does Fairtrade change the rules of the game?
- Can Fairtrade survive the economic recession/an economic crisis?

FORMAT 

Following the interdisciplinary mission of the Business & Society research group, the workshop provides a forum to connect researchers (faculty members and graduate students) from different disciplines as well as practitioners. Participation will be limited to 30 people. There is no participation fee, but unfortunately we cannot offer travel funding.


ACCOMMODATION

Unfortunately, we cannot offer accommodation.  Useful links:

http://www.hotelscombined.com/Education_Support
http://www.cam.ac.uk/visitors/accommodation.html
http://www.visitcambridge.org/wheretostay.php
 


FURTHER INQUIRIES

Tu?çe Bulut                                                            Juliane Reinecke

Faculty of Social and Political Sciences                 Judge Business School
University of Cambridge                                         University of Cambridge
E: tb318@cam.ac.uk                                            E: j.reinecke@jbs.cam.ac.uk
T: +44 (0) 79 66 79 47 57                                       T: +33 (0) 6 37 67 41 75