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Four years ago I co-edited a book with Geert De Neve and two of his colleagues at the University of Sussex – Jeff Pratt and Peter Luetchford. The chapters had originally been presented at the Hidden Hands in the Market workshop held at Sussex in April of 2007 and organized by Geert, Jeff, and Peter. After hearing about the workshop I wrote to Geert, hoping to scoop up a few bits of gold for REA, but as it turned out I had struck the mother lode. Our co-edited book was Volume 28 of REA – Hidden Hands in the Market: Ethnographies of Fair Trade, Ethical Consumption, and Corporate Social Responsibility (2008) – one of the installments that I remain proudest of, and the first REA volume under Emerald with which I was directly involved. The volume explores the relationship between producers and consumers, focusing on its moral and political content, in a very broad sense.
Always on the lookout for good material for the REA series, at the end of March, 2007, I contacted Geert De Neve about a workshop he and his colleagues, Peter Luetchford and Jeffrey Pratt, were preparing to host in late April at the University of Sussex. Word of the workshop had initially come to me via the Society for Economic Anthropology Listserv months earlier. At the time I was tied up with Volume 26, a health-related installment, and so had only hoped to pick up a few quality papers for a later volume, thinking that they could perhaps be grouped into a special section together. Fortunately, however, I got much more.
The first theme is the “problem” of personal relations in the economy. Under neo-liberalism the Market is treated as universal, a trans-historical and trans-cultural…
The first theme is the “problem” of personal relations in the economy. Under neo-liberalism the Market is treated as universal, a trans-historical and trans-cultural entity; it is naturalised and reified, rather than thought of as a set of social relations; it is treated as a given rather than the result of a historical process with complex social actors. This view of the Market dovetails with a particular understanding of the individual, as driven primarily by a (universal and naturalised) desire to maximise material well-being and seek out value for money, while an “invisible hand,” rather than known personal needs, provides the mechanism to relate supply to demand.
Almost on a daily basis newspapers and magazines tell us of the exploitative circumstances under which workers produce garments for the global market. While local trade…
Almost on a daily basis newspapers and magazines tell us of the exploitative circumstances under which workers produce garments for the global market. While local trade unions, international NGOs, and corporate social responsibility (CSR) officers claim to act in the interests of garment workers, the latter continue to lack voice and representation in their everyday struggles for better and fairer employment. Focusing on a South Indian garment cluster, the article explores the reasons why key labour rights, such as the freedom of association, keep being violated, and why local trade union and international NGO activists fail to prevent such violations. Through the lens of a major labour dispute, we consider the decline of a once successful trade union and the challenges of emerging local–international activist collaborations. The article concludes that for union, NGO, and corporate interventions to be successful in the context of a liberalising state, the political economy of labour has to be taken into account, and labour struggles have to be understood within their political and historical context.
Fair trade commonly focuses on the figure of the smallholding peasant producer. The effectiveness of this as a strategy lies in the widespread appeal of an economy based…
Fair trade commonly focuses on the figure of the smallholding peasant producer. The effectiveness of this as a strategy lies in the widespread appeal of an economy based upon independent family producers trying to secure livelihoods in impersonal and exploitative global commodity markets. But the attempt by fair trade to personalise economic relationships between coffee producers and consumers diverts attention away from aspects of the political economy of production for the market. This chapter examines a rural Costa Rican coffee economy that has supplied fair trade markets since the 1980s. Documenting differences in landholdings, the range of activities farmers engage in, and the relationship between landowners and landless labourers, women, and migrant harvesters from Nicaragua reveals differentiation and tensions that are obscured in the “smallholder” model invoked by fair trade.