The limits of a success story: Fair trade and the history of postcolonial globalization
By Peter van Dam
The history of fair trade is the matter of a heated debate wrapped up in differences regarding the ideals, goals and allies of a movement which has achieved highly visible successes in recent years. The emerging historiography challenges the common narrative of recent and sudden success. It draws attention to fair trade’s relation to a broader tradition of consumer activism, to the diverse means and ends employed by the movement, and to the networks of people and ideas in which it operated. A review of recent historiography reveals that by a shift in emphasis away from the purported revamp of the movement in the late 1980s to a more sober and nuanced picture, the history of fair trade yields valuable insight into the postcolonial aspect of postwar globalization. Regarded as an attempt to arrive at a postcolonial world order, the history of fair trade activism provides a unique window on how ‘postcolonial lobalization’ took shape.