Can a Plantation be Fair? Paradoxes and Possibilities in Fair Trade Darjeeling Tea Certification



This paper explores interactions between the Indian government's colonially inspired Plantations Labour Act and TransFair USA's fair trade standards. Although fair trade makes claims to universalistic notions of social justice and workers' empowerment, what “fairness” means and how it is experienced varies by locale. In this paper, I discuss how state laws and fair trade certification agencies complement and contradict each other on Darjeeling tea plantations. I argue that by reinforcing neoliberal logic, fair trade undermines the state, which has maintained the responsibility of regulating the treatment of workers on plantations. Certification often leads to the dissolution of unions, which are regarded as a barrier to trade.