Fair Trade and Racial Equity in Africa
By Jennifer Keahey
African Fairtrade networks are challenging market and development practices historically framed by the institutions of slavery, colonialism, and apartheid. While pan-African groups are opening domestic certified markets and pursuing South-South Fairtrade initiatives in order to transcend the colonial division of labor in the global economy, South African organizations are addressing racial disparities in post-apartheid agricultural production by instituting black economic empowerment protocols on certified estates. Yet despite the visibility of race within the South African discourse, the broader movement and literature tend to emphasize a generalized poverty framework, obscuring the persistence of deep-seated racial inequalities in agrifood systems. To address this gap, I examine the question of racial equity in African Fairtrade at three levels of analysis: continental, national and local. Drawing from the scholarly literature, organizational interviews and participatory action research with small-scale rooibos tea farmers, I find that outcomes are neither black nor white: whereas African and South African organizations are pioneering solutions to the longstanding racial hierarchy in production and trade, local-level outcomes remain mixed. The rooibos case illustrates the issues producers of color are facing as they struggle to profit from certified markets, including inequitable resource distribution, divisive regulatory parameters, and a tacit culture of soft paternalism. I conclude by arguing that if certifiers are to realize their promise of trading partnership, Fairtrade governance must institute more participatory forms of praxis that enable its members to develop a sense of interracial empowerment, ownership and solidarity.