Bringing the “Moral Charge” Home: Fair Trade within the North and within the South*


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    This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0117461. Support for the research reported here was also provided by the University of Wisconsin Agricultural Experiment Station in conjunction with regional research project NE-1012. Direct correspondence to: Daniel Jaffee, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 550 N. Park Street, Madison, WI 53706; email:


Abstract  Fair trade is typically understood as an alternative market system that aims to right historically inequitable terms of trade between the geopolitical North and South and foster more direct producer/consumer linkages. We suggest that a more expansive application of the term “fair trade” to encompass agro-food initiatives within the North and South has considerable analytic and practical utility. We profile five such initiatives in the United States and two in Mexico. The U.S. undertakings are best understood as “proto-” fair trade projects that frame their work principally as an effort to preserve “family farming” rather than as an exercise to achieve fairness in the marketplace. The Mexican initiatives more explicitly embrace the certification-criteria-labeling model of international fair trade. Both, we conclude, hold potential to harness fair trade's “moral charge” to improve conditions for small producers and laborers in North and South experiencing most directly the negative effects of economic globalization.