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Practicing the Just Price: Fair Trade and the Limits of Ethical Consumption in the Global North

The Politics and Ethics of the Just Price

ISBN: 978-1-78743-574-2, eISBN: 978-1-78743-573-5

Publication date: 19 June 2019


Fair trade has made paying producers in poorer countries a “just” price one of its central aims, with the issue constantly in its public communiqués, from the print media to social networking sites. As most research has looked at fair trade in the South, where small producers and craft makers live, discussions of the fair price have centered on whether the wholesale prices paid to them are alleviating poverty. However, circumscribing the issue of the fair price only to its impact in the South impedes our understanding of how fair trade operates in the North, on which the system relies for its existence. Looking at fair trade from a Northern perspective, this paper sees the fair price as a partial illustration of the social processes that characterize reflexive modernity, particularly the ethical dilemmas that surround the composition of prices. But rather than focusing exclusively on activist discourse, the paper uses practice theory to build a more nuanced picture of the diverse beliefs and behaviors that the fair price is entangled with. Drawing on ethnography with people who consume and sell fair trade in the Italian city of Palermo, the paper shows how understanding what a fair price is appears to be an enigma that conceals different aspects of the fair trade network. Specifically, it reveals that the fair price is not a single but a double entity, comprising the wholesale price paid to producers, where “political” emphasis usually lies, and the fair retail price, an entity discussed far less often.




I am grateful to the ESRC and the RAI for fieldwork and research funding. I also want to thank the participants to the panel Just Prices: Moral Economic Legacies and New Struggles over Value, held at the 2016 EASA meeting in Milan. I am also grateful to Peter Luetchford, Jeff Pratt, James Carrier, and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.


Orlando, G. (2019), "Practicing the Just Price: Fair Trade and the Limits of Ethical Consumption in the Global North", The Politics and Ethics of the Just Price (Research in Economic Anthropology, Vol. 39), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 179-201.



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