Networks, Ethics, and Economic Values: Faith-Based Business and the Coffee Trade in Central America
Abstract

In an era of increasing economic liberalization, much has been written on the challenges facing alternative trade movements. Religion is often overlooked in such research, and I examine how the faith identity of one set of actors influenced their involvement in the Central American coffee trade. On the basis of ethnographic research in Nicaragua, I examine how religious networks, ethics, and values shaped the economic behaviors of an evangelical Christian coffee network. Ultimately, I find religion had a mixed impact. Local networks brought actors together in a common mission for economic justice, although transnational connections mattered little beyond providing aid. Although religious ethics promoted a sense of fairness, more radical was a focus on transparency, which altered economic relationships among those in the coffee chain. Finally, actors leveraged their spiritual vision to challenge market dynamics and redefine the coffee product, although this vision both constrained and advanced efforts toward true empowerment of farmers.


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