Solidarity™: Student Activism, Affective Labor, and the Fair Trade Campaign in the United States



Abstract:  Ethical labeling campaigns have become a central means for diffusing and negotiating conflicts between social movements and market actors. Fair Trade was a pioneering ethical label and, by many accounts, a success. For nearly a decade, United Students for Fair Trade (USFT) activists worked to build the reputation of the Fair Trade Certified (FTC) label, but in Fall 2011 they withdrew their support and urged ethical consumers to do the same. This paper is an urgent reflection on USFT's trajectory from guerrilla marketing to boycotting FTC products. While their actions may appear shortsighted and contradictory, their decision to withdraw support from the FTC label has roots in a long struggle for control of Fair Trade. We argue that their actions signal a new stage in consumer action, as activists lose faith in the legitimacy of ethical labels and instead target the agencies that own the ethical brandscape.