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Buying into Fair Trade

Culture, Morality, and Consumption

Keith R. Brown

Publication Year: 2013

Stamped on products from coffee to handicrafts, the term “fair trade” has quickly become one of today’s most seductive consumer buzzwords. Purportedly created through fair labor practices, or in ways that are environmentally sustainable, fair-trade products give buyers peace of mind in knowing that, in theory, how they shop can help make the world a better place. Buying into Fair Trade turns the spotlight onto this growing trend, exploring how fair-trade shoppers think about their own altruism within an increasingly global economy.
Using over 100 interviews with fair-trade consumers, national leaders of the movement, coffee farmers, and artisans, author Keith Brown describes both the strategies that consumers use to confront the moral contradictions involved in trying to shop ethically and the ways shopkeepers and suppliers reconcile their need to do good with the ever-present need to turn a profit. Brown also provides a how-to chapter that outlines strategies readers can use to appear altruistic, highlighting the ways that socially responsible markets have been detached from issues of morality. A fascinating account of how consumers first learn about, understand, and sometimes ignore the ethical implications of shopping, Buying into Fair Trade sheds new light on the potential for the fair trade market to reshape the world into a more socially-just place.
Keith Brown is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Published by: NYU Press

Cover, Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-5


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pp. v-7

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pp. vii-xi

All authors are asked why they chose to write about their selected topic. I tell my colleagues that I chose to write about fair trade because I wanted a case study to explore culture, morality, and markets. This answer seems to satisfy them, but it is really a bit of a lie. I chose to study the fair-trade movement because of a series of meaningful...

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1. A Taste of Life in the Nicaraguan Campo

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pp. 1-30

During my first night in the campo (countryside), I was alert to unfamiliar sounds: a bat flew in and out of my room, roosters crowed throughout the night, and a woman pounded fresh corn tortillas before the sun rose. My room looked like it had been used for storage before being converted into lodging for fair-trade ecotourists...

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2. “Just One Normal Coffee”: Crafting Joe’s Moral Reputation

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pp. 31-53

“Can I just get a regular cup of coffee?” the frustrated and caffeine-deprived woman asked upon entering Joe’s café for the first (and probably last) time. “I’ve had the organic-type coffee before, and I don’t want anything like that.” Joe, who was working the counter, blushed. He assured the woman that he sold only the...

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3. “Buy More Coffee”: Becoming a Promoter through Extraordinary Experiences

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pp. 55-72

Soon after booking my “reality tour” to a fair-trade coffee cooperative in Nicaragua, I learned that in 1972, Roberto Clemente’s plane had crashed on his way to this same Central American country. Clemente was a perennial all-star in Major League Baseball who was known for his humanitarian work throughout Latin America. My mind...

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4. “Who Are We Pillaging from This Time?”: Managing Value Contradictions in Shopping

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pp. 73-93

Members of the Ten Thousand Villages marketing department make all their crucial decisions by asking one simple question: “What would Gwen do?” Would Gwen purchase this red vase inscribed with handwritten Bengali script? Would she like these ebony-inlaid silver hook earrings? Or would she prefer a red leather purse designed...

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5. How to Appear Altruistic

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pp. 95-119

By 2007, the Independents Coffee Cooperative was up and running. It had a stylish logo, a strong fund-raising presence within the nonprofit community, and even an advertising campaign that promoted its fair trade and socially conscious cafés. The positive attention it was receiving as well as its emphasis on ethical...

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6. The Great Recession and the Social Significance of Buying into Fair Trade

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pp. 121-140

When I began this book, I sought to understand the pathways to participation in the fair-trade movement. I was also curious as to why individuals want to support producers living halfway around the globe when there are so many pressing social problems closer to home. I was interested in the ways people discuss moral...

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Appendix: Research Methods

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pp. 141-154

I was never a coffee drinker. I entered a coffee shop only two or three times before starting graduate school in 2000. They made me uncomfortable. I didn’t like the taste of coffee, and I didn’t even know what to call many of the pastries on display. I also knew almost nothing about handicrafts before starting...


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pp. 155-169


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pp. 171-180


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pp. 181-187

About the Author

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pp. 188-201

E-ISBN-13: 9780814725382
E-ISBN-10: 0814725368
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814725368
Print-ISBN-10: 0814725368

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2013