The Feminist Experience of Fair Trade

Foto GlobalExchange FairTrade Blog
Comercio Justo and Justice: An examination of Fair Trade 
and its impact on indigenous womenand the family

annual meeting in Chicago, IL, Jan. 7, 2012)

Fair Trade is a multi-billion dollar formof commerce developed in the 1960s by American and European organizations as away to promote cultural and environmental sustainability and bring greatereconomic return to marginalized producers.  It is supported by producers who voluntarily embrace theguidelines of Fair Trade by working together cooperatively, sharing resources, improving product quality,and providing transparency.  FairTrade is also supported by consumers who embrace its socially responsiblevalues by purchasing Fair Trade products. 
Most Fair Traders are male land owners,though women are also an important, and often overlooked, part of trade too.  Forty-five percent of the members of theUSA Fair Trade Federation are women. There are also hundreds of women members in Europe's World Fair TradeOrganization (WFTO).  There arewomen directly engaged in Fair Trade as producers and also women who areaffected by their husbands' participation in Fair Trade.  The livelihoods of the women impact thequality of life for the children, family, and community.  Social structures and culture set different rules for women than men, making women's access and participation inFair Trade much different.  Thefeminist experience of women in Fair Trade is defined and examined in this paper.
In addition, many producers engaged in Fair Trade are from indigenous communities.  As the demands of globalization come with Fair Trade participation, there is an impact on the indigenous culture.  The Andean indigenous way of knowing, the Abya Yala, for example, is based onnot just an exchange of goods, but also on reciprocity, shared knowledge, and adeep interconnectedness (Carcelen & Yepez, 2004). The degree to which oneis able to work within their belief system, impacts their quality of life. 
While my research confirms that Bolivianwomen's Fair Trade participation has resulted in the same health, education,and monetary benefits the more frequently researched, Fair Trade coffee farmersreported in a 2009 study, there are other aspects of their quality of life, asdefined by the women, which I also study (removed for anonymity, 2010).  The quality of life of indigenous women,to date, have not been examined in any fair trade literature.  These qualities, as defined by thewomen, include leadership, empowerment, acceptance and support from thecommunity and family, opportunities, working conditions, freedom from violence,spirituality, and self expression

I have been living and working withindigenous women in Bolivia for 15 years, as journalist, Fair Trade businessowner.  In May and June 2010, Itraveled to Bolivia as a doctoral researcher and ethnographer to study theeffects of Fair Trade on these women. Employing ethnographic research methods, I strove to capture theexperiences as told and understood by the women in their own voices andcontext.  After two months offormal research, interviews, workshops, home-stays, and observation of over 66indigenous women producers of high end alpaca knitwear for export, commonthemes and patterns began to emerge. The results of this study are shared in the context of building agreater understanding of Fair Trade and its impact on indigenous women and thefamily.
The intellectual merit of this paper isto examine how Fair Trade outcomes advance our theoretical understanding ofjustice with a focus on Bolivia's indigenous women engaged in Fair Trade production.Women question the justice of this commerce form.  Using the producers' language, definitions andinterpretation, this paper presents a perception of Fair Trade originating fromtheir experiences.  This isanalyzed in relation to the economic theories of justice developed by AmartyaSen.  Sen equates justice withcapabilities, freedom, and development which offers many parallels to the FairTrade guidelines established by western organizations.  The broader impact is to create a dialogaround understanding Fair Trade which can lead to further development of justand equitable trade systems worldwide.

The Plight of Women

Women do not experience Fair Trade thesame as men and they need it more because of their familyresponsibilities.  Women aresometimes paid as laborers though they are also working, unpaid, as homemakers,caregivers, and "providers of human life" (Floro & Meurs, 2009).   The International Labor Organization (ILO) labels women'sunpaid labor as "women's double burden" defining it as a demand for bothreproductive work and labor (Floro & Meurs, 2009).   Women are described as both"time-poor" and "money-poor."  Thismeans that when hours in paid and unpaid work are totaled, women have longerwork weeks than men and less time for sleep or leisure (Fig. 1).  This impacts their time and flexibilityfor engaging in paid labor and decent work.

The ILO defined decent work as employmentwhich provides opportunity, fair income, security and social protection, andthe freedom to organize (Floro & Meurs, 2009).  Globally, women are marginalized.  Since 1996, only 53% of all women participated in the globallabor force while 80% of all men did. These rates continued remain steady as of 2006 (Floro & Meurs, 2009).  In addition, it is not easy for womento find decent work.  Jobs haveshifted from formal, legally regulated, large firms to smaller, informal firmsand home work.  These jobs, whilemore accessible to women, are outside of the protection of labor laws and lackrights to social benefits such as health care and insurance.  Social, legal, and political institutionsalso play a large role in women's access to decent work.  Traditional culture and patriarchylimit the appropriateness of women working as does fertility.  High fertility rates are directlyrelated to a lack of women in the labor force (Floro & Meurs, 2009).  With new technologies, education,longer living, and political change, women's opportunities to work havechanged.  Jobs are still illusivethough they are now more precarious than ever.  While new labor opportunities for women opened in globalexport processing zones (EPZ), these actually replaced the work of core,full-time (male) workers.  Some ofthese male workers were heads of households where the women lived.  Now the men are out of work and theless expensive, submissive women are in to take their places, at a lower wage,and a loss to the family security (Floro & Meurs, 2009).  Fair Trade intersects these scenariosby providing women safe, secure access to the wage economy.

The Indigenous Perspective 
The rest of this paper was submitted to the Journal of Feminist Economics  for peer review and publication)