An investigation into the impact of fairtrade in South Africa

Jari, Bridget (2012) An investigation into the impact of fairtrade in South Africa. PhD thesis, Rhodes University.




World international trade is moving towards more free trade, through globalization and trade liberalization. These moves are guided by trade theories which state that on an aggregated level, nations involved in free trade should benefit, and further that free trade is fair. However, in practice, contradictory views have been raised, stating that free trade may not necessarily be benefiting all participants equally. Rather, other nations, especially developing nations, have become worse-off after opening up their markets for free trade. On the other hand, many developed nations have benefited substantially from free trade. Among other factors, the difference in benefits is believed to have been influenced by the types of commodities being traded (where developing nations mainly trade in primary goods and developed nations in anufactured goods) and unequal power relations (some nations for example, the EU and the US, still adopt protectionism in their agricultural sector). In order to address market imbalances resulting from free trade, Fairtrade has arisen. Fairtrade aims to improve international trading conditions in order to benefit small-scale farmers and farm workers in the developing nations. The Fairtrade organization further claims that its principles are in line with sustainable development. However, Fairtrade suffers a credibility gap because there is a lack of independent research to support their claims. To date in South Africa, there is little research examining the claims of the Fairtrade organization. In order to contribute to the Fairtrade discussion in South Africa, this study has investigated the validity of Fairtrade‘s claims that it contributes towards sustainable development. The study utilised primary data, which was collected from ten commercial farms and two small-scale farmer cooperatives located in the Eastern Cape and Western Cape provinces that are/were Fairtrade certified. The main reason for including commercial farmers and small-scale farmer cooperatives in the study was for comparing relative impacts in the two Fairtrade structures. The data was then analysed using a sustainable livelihoods framework, which was developed in the study. The study focussed on investigating the impact of Fairtrade tools, which are minimum prices, premiums, pre-financing and support for long-term relationships, on its intended beneficiaries. Minimum prices offered to producers cover production costs and are above market prices, and Fairtrade premiums are to be invested in developmental projects. Therefore, examining the influence of Fairtrade tools on individuals and communities provides an overview of how Fairtrade influences development. The results of the study show that sampled Fairtrade beneficiaries in South Africa have witnessed substantial positive changes as a result of Fairtrade. The Fairtrade initiative has managed to empower small-scale producers and farm workers, as well as leverage development opportunities for their wider communities. It has supported organizational development in the supply chain, facilitated investment in community development projects and in business-related training. Producers, both commercial and small-scale producers, managed to access a market that offers stable prices, and have gained from minimum prices. Furthermore, small-scale farmers have been allowed an opportunity to expand their business into export markets, and enjoyed an increase in incomes. Fairtrade benefits further trickle down to non-Fairtrade community members, in the form of employment creation and community development. Despite positive effects, Fairtrade producers faced challenges, including high Fairtrade administration costs and a small market for Fairtrade commodities. The study concludes that in the face of challenges, Fairtrade brings economic, social and environmental benefits, but as compared to economic and social development, the impact on environmental development is rather limited. Even though that is the case, Fairtrade offers valuable development opportunities to producers in South Africa.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Fairtrade, Fair trade, Sustainable development, Social premium, Minimum price, Local Economic Development, New Institutional Economics, Plantations, Small-scale farmer cooperatives
Subjects:H Social Sciences > HB Economic Theory
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labour
Divisions:Faculty > Faculty of Commerce > Economics and Economic History
Supervisors:Fraser, G.C.G. and Snowball, J.D.
ID Code:2986
Deposited By: Philip Clarke
Deposited On:18 Jun 2012 08:25
Last Modified:18 Jun 2012 08:25
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