Responsibilising the Fairtrade Premium: Imagining better decision-making

A.M. Loconto, N. Arnold, L. Silva-Castañeda, A. Jimenez

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


© 2021 Elsevier LtdFairtrade International (FTI) sets forth in its theory of change a food future that consists of fair trade, small farmer and farm worker empowerment and sustainable livelihoods for producers in the Global South. The enactment of this socio-technical imaginary, what we call the Fairtrade imaginary, relies upon a suite of voluntary standards as the means to organise actors and implement rules of engagement. A central component of the FTI imaginary is a social premium (the Fairtrade Premium) that consists of an extra amount of money paid by supply chain buyers to certified producer organisations (POs). On the one hand, this premium payment serves as a powerful demonstration of a responsible North-South trading system that benefits the producers. On the other hand, the premium payment is an object of conflict, as northern buyers criticize FTI and producers about a lack of transparency in the use of the Premium. We examine these tensions in the Fairtrade Imaginary in order to understand the role of decision-making in responsibilising trade practices. Empirical case studies of two banana POs, one in Ecuador and the other in Peru, show that separated decision-making processes increase levels of participation and accountability in Premium use. While organizational independence is an ideal type of responsibility in the Fairtrade imaginary, our findings suggest that the allocation of ‘role-responsibility’ across the system might better strengthen collective responsibility. We conclude that realising better food futures requires strengthening responsibilities for decision-making within POs, rather than pushing for more transparent accounting mechanisms between the POs and Fairtrade International.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)711-723
JournalJournal of Rural Studies
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes


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