Fair Trade for Whom? The Contribution of Fair Trade to Combatting Trade Inequities Faced by East Timorese Coffee Producers
Fair trade aims to empower smallholder agricultural producers in the global South to gain more power over their industries by the formation of transparent and democratically representative cooperatives. However, critiques of the fair trade system have emerged in ethical consumption literature, and pockets suggest that individual producer contexts have more of a role to play in determining the benefits of fair trade than had been previously understood or addressed. This work constitutes a case study designed to examine implementation and practice anomalies within the Timorese fair trade certified coffee industry, and the ways in which they impact on producers’ livelihoods and development. A mixed methods approach is deployed to analyse the coffee cooperative Cooperativa Café Timor, and the producers who sell to it. It finds the cooperative to be subject to a number of external pressures that prevent it from passing on the benefits of fair trade certification to farmers. Governance practices in terms of transparency and grassroots representation are found to be significantly hindered by reliance on outside organisations for market access. Also, producers are found to remain superficially represented within commodity chains; having little or no access to value-added income. The involvement of American private enterprise within the East Timorese fair trade system has served to distance the fair trade cooperative from its grassroots, and acts as somewhat of a barrier to democratic management, participatory decision-making, and the realisation of the objectives of fair trade.