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Towards a Polanyian perspective on fair trade: market-based relationships and the act of ethical consumption

By Matthew Watson


Fair trade requires that developed country consumers engage in market-based transactions with developing country producers. Yet this is not market trade in any straightforward sense, because the purchase of fairly traded products brings consumers into two market relationships at the same time. One is the market relationship through which consumers buy the product itself, which enables them to act altruistically by consciously paying the price premium that the producer receives. The other is the market relationship through which consumers buy the socially reputable knowledge of having helped a distant stranger, which enables them to harness their ostensibly ethical consumption to a knowingly self-interested action. This latter relationship adds a new dimension to orthodox commodity fetishism. A Polanyian perspective is developed to investigate the way in which fair trade reworks the commodity fetish. This serves as a prelude to an extended discussion of the moral status of the behavioural motivations that underpin fair trade consumption

Topics: HF
Publisher: Routledge
Year: 2006
OAI identifier:

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