Transnational Social Movements, Solidarity Values and the Grassroots: The Fair Trade Movement, Mexican Coffee Producers and a European NGO Coalition

This paper explores the points of convergence and digression of the Trade Justice Movement and the Fair Trade Market in Northern countries and the Mexican peasant project, through the framework of transnational social movements. It concerns the way solidarity relations between northern social movements and southern social movements are carried out, the extent they can be conceptualised as social movements, and the level of engagement between north and south movements that share claims. Also, it will analyse the role of values as a strategy, and as an end in itself, framing the broad struggle between opposing actors. It is concluded that, actually both the Fair Trade market and the Trade Justice Movement address one of the longstanding claims of the Latin American peasant movements namely better conditions of access to the market. However there are not visible channels of communication and strong links between northern and southern social movements. It is suggested that a stronger mutual involvement could enhance more effective channels of communication that gives coherence and effectiveness to the movements struggle for equality, rather than repeating within SM’s the political economy’s North-South schema of domination.

Transnational Social Movements, Solidarity Values and the Grassroots: Introduction

This paper explores the points of convergence and digression of the Trade Justice Movement and the Fair Trade Market in Northern countries and the Mexican peasant project, through the framework of transnational social movements. It concerns the way solidarity relations between northern social movements and southern social movements are carried out, the extent they can be conceptualised as social movements, and the level of engagement between north and south movements that share claims. Also, it will analyse the role of values as a strategy, and as an end in itself, framing the broad struggle between opposing actors. It is concluded that, actually both the Fair Trade market and the Trade Justice Movement address one of the longstanding claims of the Latin American peasant movements namely better conditions of access to the market. However there are not visible channels of communication and strong links between northern and southern social movements. It is suggested that a stronger mutual involvement could enhance more effective channels of communication that gives coherence and effectiveness to the movements struggle for equality, rather than repeating within SM’s the political economy’s North-South schema of domination.

Transnational Solidarity Movements and the Intangible Strategies

The two main theories concerning Transnational Social Movements are the Resource Mobilization Theory (RMT) and to a less extent the New Social Movements (NSM’s) Theory. It seems that both the RM and NSMs theories appear to have been made to suit specific types of social mobilisation. NSMs theory, which attempts to supersede class based analysis, has been pictured as focusing on urban actors, on production and signification, on meanings and practices, and on cultural struggles over environmentalism, peace, women’s rights, gay liberation, minority rights, students, youth movements; in short on multiple identities and on the ‘why’ (Escobar and Alvarez, 1992: 2; Alvarez, Dagnino and Escobar, 1998: 4, Edelman, 1999a: 17). Resource mobilization Theory (RMT), on the other hand, has been considered a ‘strategy-oriented’ paradigm, concerned with the ‘how’. In Edelman’s terms, Resource Mobilization Theory has focused on

The Role of Values in Transnational Social Movements

A central concern of this paper is the role of values as a target and as key symbolic element of movements strategies. Values are a factor not only in transnational movements, but also in the domestic environment of movements, this section focuses on an aspect of values that is rarely conceptualised in depth, or considered important in academic and practical terms in relation to social movements and grassroots constituencies.

M.E. Keck and K. Sikkink, talking about the rationality or significance of activist networks, stress that scholars have been slow to recognize the ‘…motivation by values rather than by material concerns or professional norms’ (1998: 2). The authors find that the role of values is consistent with some arguments within the New Social Movement Theory (1998: 31).

The Norm Implementation Role of Transnational Social Movements

Among the multiple definitions of a social movements, some categorize the manifestations and general aims that move activism. A short review follows of some of the different classifications of social movements, principally transnational ones.

R. Cohen, using an early model from Aberle and Wilson, suggests four kinds of social movements, namely ‘transformative’, reformative, redemptive and alternative (2000). The transformative ones focus on structural change in a violent form, like radical political groups, or anticipate a ‘cataclysmic change’, including movements with religious roots. The reformative type aims ‘…at partial change to try to offset current injustices and inequalities’. It fosters positive change by removing such burdens, creating a ‘…more just social order and a more effective and viable polity’. Usually this type of movement, adopts a single issue as point of departure in their efforts at restructuring exclusive policies. The 2000 Jubilee focused on principle on reducing the external debt of poor countries; after a considerable success the strategy focused later on changing the world trade rules, targeting authorities from transnational organisations such as the WTO. Redemptive movements imply an internal individual change. This type is commonly approached through the New Religious Movements perspective.

Fair Trade as a Movement

At the present time neo-liberal values, whose beginning some situate in the Bretton Woods conference, are spreading and starting to prevail in the world political economy, in governments’ and multilateral agencies’ policies. However this happens mostly around policies and not necessarily in peoples’ projects and the so-called civil society. One example is world trade. There is an increasing perception by ordinary people of the widening of the gap between rich and poor and its relation with market liberalisation. Nowadays there is never a World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting without a parallel contesting forum or demonstration organised by socially-oriented NGOs, political groups, coalitions, peasant organisations, intellectuals and an increasing number of individual people, in a heterogeneous movement that is showing signs of adopting broader focuses and targets, more organisation, professionalisation (e.g. The World Social Forum in Porto Alegre), and hence, whose claims, despite being silenced in many countries by the media, are being heard and taken seriously by larger sectors of the population.

Some considerations about the trajectory of the Fair Trade Market

As L. Waridel (2002: 93) points out, it is not easy to say when the Fair Trade movement started or whether it is situated exclusively in the North. None of the literature reviewed about Fair Trade mentions such initiatives within any country from the South. Through the relatively little material published about the history of the Fair Trade movement, we have an analysis of its emergence that seems to be constructed with an euro-centric model. There is room for more research and a re-consideration of the approach. The following review will examine the philosophies and ideologies behind the movement.

The Alternative Trade is said to have begun towards the end of the 19th century, with the development of the cooperative movement mainly in the U.K. and Italy; its goal still is to ‘…build an integrated cooperative economy, right the way through from production to retail outlet’, (IFAT, 2002). Another early account of an organized attempt to trade without middlemen is from the former Mennonite International Development Agency (currently the Mennonite Central Committee) which founded in North America their first Self-Help Crafts stores (now known as Ten Thousand Villages) in 1946.

Fair Trade Labelling Organizations International (FLO Int)

In 1997, the three certification initiatives TransFair, Max Havelaar, and the Fair Trade Foundation, along with Swedish and a Finnish labelling organisations with their own satellite organisations across Europe, America, and Asia, came together to build up an umbrella called Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO-International) in order to standardise the certification process (Waridel, 2002:96). The initiative is based in Bonn, Germany and Utrecht, the Netherlands and its 17 members, known as the national initiatives, currently certify coffee, tea, sugar, honey, bananas, orange juice, mangoes, rice, and chocolate; a process is ongoing to include herbal teas, dry fruits, sun-dried fruits, wine, ornamental plants, sport balls, fresh fruits, and fruit juices.

FLO’s overall objective is through the labelling of a Fair Trade product, is to support deprived producers to achieve sustainable development. The label enables the consumer to recognize a Fair Trade product and hence, enhances producers’ access to international markets, based on fair conditions (FLO-Int web page).

Symbolic values and the symbolic power of values

Any consumer that has read a Fair Trade leaflet about how the system works, is aware that he or she is paying a higher price than for conventional products, as one of the FT mechanisms that enable the ‘third world’ producers to make a better deal. This over-price is justified through the set of symbolic social and ecologic values that are a fundamental requirement the consumer is expecting the label agency to fulfil, as an assurance of right certification; but the labelling organisation continually monitors both the importer and the producer, and the cooperatives have their own rules on individuals’ participation. In short, values appear to be the reason that puts in motion and justifies the whole apparatus. In the Fair Trade market, social and ecological values are opposed to the principles of the maximum bargain for the consumer, and maximum profit for the seller, which sustains the mainstream market, regardless of other facts such as quality, production conditions, distribution of profit etc.

Peasant movements struggles for the appropriation of the production process

This section will not review in depth the concept of peasantry and the categorizations associated with it, but develop a set of starting points to frame in broad terms this approach to the productive character of Mexican peasantry. It will show through some examples, the way the Mexican peasantry have organised in official or independent movements, in coalitions or isolated efforts, for the appropriation of the productive process, which includes the struggle for equal and fairer conditions of marketing. According to differentiation of the peasantry along Latin America and Mexico itself, it is convenient to show the way the main actors in agricultural production have been defined and conceptualised, to get for a better understanding of their social problematic.