Voice, Choice and Governance: The Case of Tanzania's Fairtrade Co-operatives
By Shannon Sutton
This research contributes to the growing body of knowledge about Fairtrade’s impact on producers by assessing voice and governance within producer organizations. I employ
Fung and Wright’s (2003) framework of Empowered Participatory Governance (EPG) as a tool for understanding the challenges of collaborative governance as they relate to
Fairtrade. EPG combines participation, decentralized decision-making, continuous deliberation and engagement, and co-operation between parties and interests, and as
such is well suited to a consideration of Fairtrade governance. Through exploring EPG’s principles, design properties, and enabling conditions related to Fairtrade, I aim to learn more about whether or not this international system is truly achieving collaborative governance that enables individual producers to have a ‘stronger voice’. I consider Fung and Wright’s (2003) notion of countervailing power as a means of understanding how power structures may be challenged to the advantage of those who are typically
marginalized within Fairtrade’s governance processes, and incorporate Hirschman’s (1970) work on exit, voice, and loyalty in order to explore alternatives to voice.
This multiple case study focuses on Fairtrade coffee co-operatives in Tanzania. Over a period of two years, I conducted 139 individual interviews with key informants,
managers, Board members, and producers in East Africa, held focus groups, and observed many events. Overall I found that Fairtrade creates opportunities for producer
voice through its governance structures when (i) governance is collaborative and (ii) producers have substantial and equal access to capacity building. However, when
individuals do not feel as though they have a voice, exit becomes a viable alternative.