Graduation Year


Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Latin American Studies

Reader 1

Nancy Neiman Auerbach

Reader 2

April Mayes

Reader 3

Marina Perez de Mendiola

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Rights Information

© 2015 Kathryn E. Keisling


While the movement for fair trading practices in the world market dates back to the 1940s, the labeling and certification initiative “Fairtrade” has existed for about 25 years. My thesis is based on independent research I conducted in November 2013 in La Convención Valley, Peru. Through in-depth interviews with fifteen small farmers and several cooperative officials at La Central de Cooperativas Agrarias Cafetaleras (COCLA), I examine the discrepancies between what Fairtrade’s claims and what farmers themselves perceive to be the benefits and failures of the certification system. I argue that while in theory farmers receive a competitive price for their Fairtrade coffee, in reality this price is subject to many deductions at the cooperative level such that many certified farmers express little understanding of their role in Fairtrade. Additionally, claims of corruption within the cooperative point to deeply entrenched local hierarchies of power. Comparing La Convencion’s history of exploitative feudal systems to present-day complaints of farmers – that the majority of money remains in the hands of cooperative officials, who limit farmers’ access to important market information and flaunt a higher quality of life – suggests that Fairtrade is actually reproducing harmful conditions of the past. I conclude that Fairtrade certification fails to empower farmers to escape local hierarchies of power and the exploitative conditions of the capitalist neoliberal world market. Making global trade truly fair requires an emphasis on an alternative international economic world order that holds consumers more accountable and places more value on the lives and experiences of producers.

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.