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Fair Trade, better lives? An assessment of Fair Trade’s contribution to improve Turkana basket weavers’ livelihoods

Anita Leutgeb

Wien, Dezember 2014 | 978-3-902906-08-3

Fair trade has over the course of the last 30 years become a forceful model for socially and environmentally sustainable North-South trade. As such, it has given thousands of poor farmers and their families an economic alternative which has made them less dependent on the vagaries of the global market, and pays them a premium which can be used to foster socio-economic development.

Nevertheless, not each and every economic scheme that carries “Fair Trade” in its name fulfills the expectations that consumers typically associate with that term. A bewildering variety of differentlabels and certificates refer to fair trade in one way or the other, and it has become quite difficult for  consumers to disentangle what kind of social standards have to be fulfilled in order to qualify for a particular fair trade sheme. Besides, recent media reports have come up with critical assessments as to the social value-added of production processes that are certified under fair trade regimes.

Against this background, the present master’s thesis of Ms Anita Leutgeb adds to our knowledge on the performance of fair trade production in the handicraft industry in Kenya. A methodologically robust study, it compares the impact of fair trade production for a basket weavers’ cooperative in the peripheral Turkana region with that of a non-fair trade producer association in the same region. The results clearly indicate that the particular concept of fair trade applied in the case study does not necessarily lead to better outcomes in terms of improving the livelihoods of producers. Complementary measures are needed in order to increase the social and economic value-added for basket weavers.

Fair trade might have a positive impact on local communities and it many cases this has been well documented. But this positive impact must not be taken for granted. Thorough empirical analysis and constant evaluation is needed in order to make sure that fair trade schemes deliver on their promises for social sustainability. The present study makes a welcome and serious contribution to this aim.

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