Virtual Moralities: The Mainstreaming of Fairtrade in Kenyan Tea Fields

Dolan, Catherine (2008) Virtual Moralities: The Mainstreaming of Fairtrade in Kenyan Tea Fields. In: Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Seminar Series, The Fate of Food: Agricultural Production in the Fourth World Food Regime, 25-26 April 2008, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

Fairtrade was founded to alleviate poverty and economic injustice through a market-based form of solidarity exchange. Yet with the increasing participation of transnational food corporations in Fairtrade sourcing, new questions are emerging on the extent to which the model offers an alternative to the inimical tendencies of neoliberalism. Drawing on a qualitative research project of Kenyan Fairtrade tea, this paper examines how the process of corporate mainstreaming influences the structure and outcomes of Fairtrade, and specifically the challenges it poses for the realization of Fairtrade’s development aspirations. It argues firstly that whilst tea producers have experienced tangible benefits from Fairtrade’s social premium, these development ‘gifts’ have been conferred through processes marked less by collaboration and consent than by patronage and exclusion. These contradictions are often glossed by the symbolic force of Fairtrade’s key tenets – empowerment, participation, and justice – which simultaneously serve to neutralize critique and mystify the functions that Fairtrade performs for the political economy of development and neoliberalism. Second, building on recent critiques of corporate social responsibility, the paper explores how certain neoliberal rationalities are emboldened through Fairtrade, as a process of mainstreaming installs new metrics of governance (standards, certification, participation) that are at once moral and technocratic, voluntary and coercive, and inclusionary and marginalizing. The paper concludes that these technologies have divested exchange of mutuality, as the totemic features of neoliberal regulation – standards, procedures and protocols – increasingly render north south partnerships ever more virtual and depoliticized.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Keywords: Kenya; Fairtrade; Ethics; Transparency; Empowerment; Neoliberalism; Mainstreaming
Subject(s): Retail
Centre: Oxford Institute of Retail Management
Faculty of Marketing
Date Deposited: 27 Feb 2012 18:28
Last Modified: 23 Oct 2015 14:06
URI: http://eureka.sbs.ox.ac.uk/id/eprint/2511

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