Benefits, challenges, and limitations of fair trade as a social justice movement
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This thesis answers some important questions about how Fair Trade is experienced and perceived by some Northern sellers, consumers, activists, advocates, practitioners, and an importer. As it relates to sellers, I focus only on small scale independent businesses (i.e. I do not include large corporate businesses in my interview sample). Fair Trade works to establish a dignified livelihood for many producers in the South. Some of the most important actors in the Fair Trade movement are the people who buy, sell, and/or advocate for Fair Trade in the North. Fair Trade is largely a consumer movement which relies on the purchase of Fair Trade products. Without consumers purchasing Fair Trade products, retailers providing the products for sale, and activists raising awareness of Fair Trade, the movement, as it is presently constituted, would be non-existent. This qualitative research is based on 19 in-depth i.nterviews with nine interviewees involved with Fair Trade in Canada. I focus on benefits, challenges, and limitations of Fair Trade in the context of their involvement with it. I describe and analyze how people become involved with Fair Trade, what motivates them to do so, what they hope to achieve, and the benefits of being involved. I also describe and analyze how people understand and deal with any challenges and limitations associated with their involvement with Fair Trade. I also explore whether involvement with Fair Trade influences how people think about other products that they purchase and, if so, in what ways. I focus mainly on the commodity of coffee, but my discussion is not limited to this single commodity. Interviewees' experiences with and participation in Fair Trade vary in terms of their level of involvement and interest in the broader Fair Trade movement (as opposed to just participating in the market component). This research reveals that while Fair Trade is a small movement, sellers, consumers, and activists have had much success in the advancement of Fair Trade. While challenges have not deterred interviewees from continuing to participate in Fair Trade, analysis and explanation of such challenges provides the opportunity for Fair Trade practitioners to develop effective solutions in an effort to meet the needs of various Fair Trade actors.