Tools of the trade

Whether you really are supporting small-scale producers and farm workers in developing countries when you opt to buy fairtrade products is coming under scrutiny in a Victoria-led study.

Representing fair and organic trade, hands fulll of seeds

Human Geography and Development Studies Professor Warwick Murray has been awarded Marsden funding of $710,000 to examine the ethics of fair and organic trade and investigate the extent to which farmers and labourers actually benefit from consumers’ support.

Warwick says there is a growing body of research into fairtrade and organic production but very little of it has critically compared the industry by countries, industry sectors and types of trade.

“We are addressing a number of ethical questions, including whether fairtrade and organic labelling is accurate or, in some cases, has become something of a marketing exercise.”

Warwick is collaborating with Victoria colleague Professor John Overton, along with Professor Jonathan Barton and Associate Professor Johannes Rehner from the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, to compare and contrast fruit, fish and wine industry sectors in five countries: Argentina, Chile, Australia,South Africa and New Zealand.

Warwick says that, although the fairtrade and organic movement has delivered benefits in terms of development gains and greater global awareness, there is a question mark over whether the power and profits are distributed evenly. Recent research from Victoria in locations including East Timor, Argentina and Indonesia suggests that this is not always the case.

“If there is a concentration of wealth at the top of the chain, away from small growers and rural labourers, this completely contradicts the supposed equitable aims of fairtrade.”