Fair Trade and Food Sovereignty

Today, talk about fair trade involves integrating the perspective of food sovereignty. Both concepts are closely linked and the first is not possible without assuming the premises of the second.

When we refer to fair trade, we consider a series of criteria: respecting the environment,  paying a fair salary, promoting gender equality, and demanding its application to all people who make up the commercial chain. What sense would it make to establish criteria for the producer but not for the seller? These social justice and environmental criteria, which should be taken into account in the entire lifetime of a product, are intimately linked to the principle of food sovereignty.


Food sovereignty is the right of the towns to control their own agricultural and food policies; the right to decide what to cultivate, what to eat and how to sell; to produce locally, while respecting their land; to have in our hands the control of the natural resources: water, seeds, earth…

In actuality, agricultural production responds to the pursuit of capitalist profit of multinational corporations and of the political elite that support them. What we eat has come to be determined by economic interests that do not take into account our nutritional needs or the planet’s limits of production; natural resources are privatized. Food has become a commodity whose original value, nutrition, has taken the backseat.


These principles of food sovereignty as applied to the fair trade, lead us to speak about a fair trade of proximity, excepting those products that are not prepared in our territory; of a respectful fair trade with the environment and controlled by the communities; of a fair trade that fights the neoliberal politics and the multinational corporations.

mercado local

In this way, we can speak of a local fair trade, whether in the north or in the south: eating fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables produced by farmers on the basis of social and environmental justice, access to these products by the local markets, and the network of a united economy.

If we purchase products like coffe, sugar, or quinoa, we must be sure that they adhere to these principles of food sovereignty, where their international commercialization would be a complement to their local distribution, that the purchase of these products guarantees the transparency and fairness in the whole trip of the product.

Considering the above, what can we say about fair trade coffee in a supermarket? About honey that comes from abroad? About bananas from a large Latin-American plantation with certification? Is this fair trade? If we take into account food sovereignty, none of these practices are fair trade.

Products that base their profits on exploitation of workers, extortion of farmers and suppliers, or promotion of irresponsible consumption can neven be considered fair trade.

Neither is it fair trade that banana farms in the hands of agribusiness, like Chiquita and Dole,  produce bananas with a fair trade seal, while on other farms they exploit their workers and end local production.

The attainment of food sovereignty and of fair trade will only be posible with the joint work of farmer’s organizations, consumers, trade unionists, environmentalists…they wager by another model of agriculture, trade and consumption in the service of people and the environment. To do this, we need a collective conscience throughout Guatemala.


Por Esther Vivas, co-coordinadora de los libros “Supermercados, no gracias” (Icaria, 2007) y “¿Adónde va el comercio justo?” (Icaria, 2006).