By Dustin Johnson
While many of us likely think of fair trade as a label on coffee and chocolate indicating that it was produced under better and fairer conditions than the average batch, it is a much more radical project than that. Fair trade is rooted in the idea that people who produce goods, whether they are farmers or artisans or miners, should be able to live comfortably from their labor and choose how best to invest in the improvement of their community. To ensure this, fair trade systems set a guaranteed minimum price that producers will receive when they sell their products, thereby providing stability and insulating them from global market fluctuations. Most systems also include a premium, or additional price per unit, which the producers use to improve their production, support education, improve health and sanitation, or otherwise benefit their community.
Development policy, left and otherwise, is often segregated from the labor power considerations at the heart of fair trade systems. Yet a left approach to development must consider not just living conditions in the global South, but power relations both within the South and between North and South. One way for a left international development policy in the global North to expand worker power around the world is to expand support for fair trade producers and systems.