Colorado State University’s Fair Trade Research Group has been awarded a $300,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to continue critical research on the global impact of fair trade. The grant also is helping to lay the foundation for a permanent Center for Research on Trade and Development that will build upon the group’s existing strengths and international networks.
Led by associate sociology professors Doug Murray and Laura Raynolds, the Fair Trade Research Group was awarded the grant to further analyze challenges and opportunities in broadening and deepening the impact of fair trade throughout the world.
"We are quite excited about the grant because it takes us to another level of research and networking, opening up a broad range of new opportunities," said Murray. "It also takes us one step closer to the new center that will expand our work on fair trade to include a range of alternative initiatives fostering more just and sustainable trade and development."
Fair trade is an initiative that seeks to modify the world’s historically unequal global system of trade by linking consumers in the global north with producers in the global south in support of more socially just and environmentally sound production, trade and consumption. Fair trade represents a new approach to alleviating poverty in the global south based on a strategy of "trade not aid."
Markets for fair trade coffee and other items link northern consumers with groups of poor southern producers, offering the disadvantaged producers a chance to earn reasonable returns for their work and maintain decent working and living conditions through sustainable development.
"Fair trade has emerged as an important movement for social change in Europe, North America and regions of the developing world," said Raynolds. "The goal is to provide disadvantaged producers a chance to increase control over their own future and has already made considerable contributions to the lives of the rural poor in the global south."
Colorado State’s Fair Trade Research Group will use the Ford Foundation grant in part to expand their current efforts focused on an international comparative project with professors from universities in England, Brazil and South Africa to build regional capacity for research on trade and development alternatives. The benefits of the project include lessening poverty through changing consumer behavior as well as better informing farmers, producers and consumers of mutually beneficial social and environmental gains from participating in fair trade.
"Through our current research, we are looking at patterns in a comparative fashion to better anticipate and understand what Fair Trade is doing in different commodities and different regions," said Murray. "We are also looking at what lessons can be learned from previous experiences in order to influence future policy and practices."
Colorado State’s Fair Trade Research Group was launched in 1999 to address some critical issues regarding the future of global fair trade, and the Ford Foundation grant is helping advance these ongoing efforts. Among the many questions the group strives to answer are the following.
– What are the benefits of fair trade for producers and consumers?
– Can these benefits be extended to new commodity areas and sustained over time?
– Can fair trade encompass a greater number of farmers and rural workers throughout the developing world?
– Can fair trade encompass a broader range of consumer groups around the world?
– How can fair trade mesh its ambitious social goals and its pragmatic market efforts?
– How does fair trade relate to other alternative trade and development initiatives?
"These are very timely questions," said Raynolds. "The answers are crucial not only to the future of millions of impoverished rural producers in the south, but also to the growing number of northern consumers concerned with the global implications of their purchases. Our research represents an opportunity for understanding the future prospects for sustainable and equitable development on a global scale."
Fair Trade began several decades ago through the efforts of alternative trade organizations, or ATOs. These organizations purchased products directly from poor producers in the south for sale to socially conscious consumers in the north through networks of Third World shops and other specialty outlets. In the late 1980s, ATOs began labeling fair trade products to broaden their availability, moving products into supermarkets. Coffee, the first labeled fair trade commodity, remains the backbone of the fair trade system.
According to the Colorado State researchers, the fair trade market is poised to expand dramatically over the next decade as labeled commodities become more widely available and better known. Fair trade products most widely available for purchase in the United States include coffee, tea and cocoa.
For more information about Colorado State’s Fair Trade Research Group, visit their Web site at www.colostate.edu/Depts/Sociology/FairTradeResearchGroup.