Accepted Paper:

"Trade not aid": cleansing relationships  


Lill Margrethe Vramo (National Institute for Consumer Research)

Paper short abstract:

This paper considers the so called ethical turn of trade and consumers in the light of western logic of market, progress and charity to the other. The paper examines the ethical turn as part of a ritual to cleanse the relationship between North and South.

Paper long abstract:

Based on empirical data collected along the value-chain of textiles designed in Norway, produced in Bangladesh and sold in a fair trade shop in Norway, this paper examines the ideal and normative division drawn between trade and aid found in present fair trade attempts. The material is drawn from a study of a trading relationship, where an expressed aim of the business is to support people in the south. This objective is challenged by western notions of market and trade, which differentiate fundamentally between gifts (aid) and commodities (trade). Fair trade has its roots in philanthropy and political solidarity. In both cases the south has entered into the relationship in the role of beneficiary, a furthering of the role held as a beneficiary of aid. Still for many northern actors involved in ethical trade the aim of the business is to equalize and cleanse the relationship between North and South through doing trade. In the slogan: 'trade not aid', a belief in trade as a positive force and scepticism to traditional aid is expressed. In this paper I relate the turn from aid to trade to a 'relational discomfort' that over time have been established between North and South by the way gifts (aid) from the north have been perceived, presented and distributed. Through empirical examples I show how the 'relational discomfort' frames the running of the fair trade business, and examine what consequences, challenges and possibilities this underlying premise has for actors (and products) in the value-chain.

Panel W001
Ethical consumption: consumers and producers, markets and ethics