York prof concerned about corporate influence over fair trade movement

Increased corporate involvement at various levels of the fair trade movement has caused tensions to arise and that has impacted negatively on the small producers in the south, said York Professor Darryl Reed at a recent symposium in France.

He argued that these developments have caused confusion among consumers in addition to harming the small producers. A Business & Society Program professor in the Division of Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts, Reed traced the roots of this problem to the domination of the movement by northern labelling bodies and the corresponding lack of access to decision-making power by southern producer organizations.

Right: Darryl Reed speaking at the 3rd International Symposium on Fair Trade

For fair trade organizations to live up to the values that they espouse and fulfill the purposes for which they were developed, the northern labelling bodies not only have to listen to southern producers, but must cede decision-making power to them, said Reed.  

Reed discussed the fair trade issues during his plenary address – “The Legitimacy of Fair Trade Labelling Organizations” – at the 3rd International Symposium on Fair Trade held May 14-16 in Montpellier, France.

The symposium, organized by a coalition of research institutions, research networks and fair trade organizations, is the major research forum for fair trade research. It brought together university and independent researchers, officials from the major fair trade certifying bodies and organizations, and representatives of producer organizations from around the globe. York PhD student Joanna Adamiak in the Faculty of Environmental Studies also presented her work on fair trade bananas at the conference.

Reed, an internationally recognized expert in the field, has been engaged in researching and promoting fair trade movements for a number of years. Currently, he is involved – along with York professors Ananya Mukherjee (political science) and JJ McMurtry (business & society) – in an action research project as part of a SSHRC-sponsored grant on the social economy. The project involves action research for setting up a fair trade cooperative and was motivated by the current agrarian crisis in India, which has led to wide spread debt among small cotton producers and has resulted in an estimated 150,000 farmers committing suicide

Left: Darryl Reed addresses the audience at a recent symposium in France

The project investigates the specific problems involved in developing an alternative value chain in cotton goods (especially T-shirts) and what benefits farmers and other workers involved in the making of the these products receive. The main community partner on this project has been the SUMAC community worker cooperative in Guelph (producers of fair trade coffee products under their Planet Bean label), which has produced a short video on the work of the project.

In addition to his SSHRC-funded research, Reed is also involved with a number of grassroots and community organizations including the Sustainable Purchasing Coalition at York. The University has adopted a workplace code of conduct for its trademark licensees which outlines the conditions that must be met when licensed goods bearing York’s names and marks are manufactured. York has also joined the Fair Labor Association and the Workers’ Rights Consortium, both based in Washington.