Fair Trade & Ethical Consumption in Global Context: A Short Film

A guest post by Manya Janowitz

fair-trade-shopperI was raised in a liberal, progressive community, and my parents and friends were aware of the issues surrounding globalization. My family shopped primarily Fair Trade when possible, bought produce from the CSA farm right next door, and my mom even took part in the Seattle WTO protests when I was young. Yet, while I was very familiar with the Fair Trade logo, I didn’t actually understand what fair trade was: I didn’t look past the label.

My lack of real understanding of an alter-globalization movement prompted me to study Fair Trade and more personally, my role as a consumer of ethical products. I wanted to understand what fair trade really means, and I was curious if other people too had only a surface understanding of the movement. In my research, conducted for the class Sociology of Globalization taught by Dr. Nicki Lisa Cole at Pomona College last spring, I found that this was largely the case. Most people knew that Fair Trade was “fair”, “ethical”, perhaps that it “guaranteed farmers a living wage.” But, few people had any deeper knowledge of the fair trade movement or the many Fair Trade organizations that compose it.

Thus grew the idea for a short film. I wanted to highlight the mission of the movement as well as the structure, benefits, and setbacks of the fair trade model in a way that was accessible and enjoyable, in order to reach a wide audience of fair trade buffs and newbies alike. But as I was reading articles and conducting interviews, I kept running up against a conceptual wall. I found myself wondering, “How can we expect to make our capitalist, consumerist system more just and equitable by simply playing within the system? If our work is within the system itself, are we not perpetuating it?” The concern that buying “fair” products may actually stop us from creating social change on a bigger scale struck me, and became the focus of the second half of my film.

“Fair Trade Coffee and Ethical Consumption” is an incredibly broad topic. Modestly, my film is an introduction to the topic and some of the issues that surround it, and will help the viewer gain an initial understanding of globalization. I unpack what the fair trade label means, and encourage viewers to think more carefully about what they buy, where their goods come from, and the consequences of our consumer choices. I hope that my film inspires you to reflect on your role as consumers in our globalized world, and whether the system of global capitalism and the consumer lifestyle attached to it is working for the planet and humanity.

manya photoManya Janowitz is a junior at Pomona College studying International Relations with a self-proclaimed emphasis on globalization and international development. She recently returned from a summer of research in the Democratic Republic of Congo and enjoys yoga, tea, theater, and, of course, challenging the system.

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