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Fair or Balanced?: The Other Side of Fair Trade in a Nicaraguan Sewing Cooperative

From: Anthropological Quarterly
Volume 86, Number 2, Spring 2013
pp. 527-557 | 10.1353/anq.2013.0017



This article tracks the rise and fall of the Fair Trade Zone, the first worker-owned "free trade zone" in the world. A partnership between a small development NGO and a small fair trade retailer from the US initiated the project in 1999, but a power struggle that arose between these two organizations and the worker-owners of the co-op in 2007 ultimately led to the co-op's withdrawal. This case study reflects on the rhetorical role of the concepts of solidarity and partnership in alternative trade and development initiatives like fair trade while providing a window onto a much more heterogeneous assemblage of imperfect connections, asymmetrical power, and divergent agendas, strategies, ideologies, and ethical regimes.

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