Constructing Fair Trade from the Bottom-Up

An Examination of Notions of Fairness in the
Conventional Cotton Trade of Burkina Faso

Undergraduate Honours Thesis
Final version, presented by
Émanuèle Lapierre-Fortin
To Professors Ken MacDonald and Darryl Reed
For the class IDSD01: Advanced Seminar in International Development Studies
University of Toronto at Scarborough
April 14th 2008




I would like to sincerely thank:
Ibrahim Traoré, for all his help as a research assistant
Pierre, Joseph and Salif Traoré for logistics in Karangasso-Sambla
Jean-Pierre Traoré, for his continuous advice
Association Siguignogonia of Karangasso-Sambla, for their hospitality
Uniterra, Helvetas and Maison des Associations in Burkina Faso
Ken MacDonald and Darryl Reed, for invaluable research guidance
The Threads of Wrath team for lending their talent ad enthusiasm to the documentary project
All interviewees for their interest, patience, insights and great work
My friends and colleagues for their moral support
My housemates and partner for their input, and for being there



Executive Summary

When a farmer delivers his cotton to the Société des Fibres Textiles (SOFITEX), a quasi-monopsony
in Burkina Faso, a cut of two kilograms, is taken off of the final buying price, accounting for
“transportation losses”. Often the farmers spend the night filling the containers of the SOFITEX
vehicles, at their own cost, and “…if the truck is in an accident, they are responsible for all the
damages”. This is why one cannot help but shiver at the sight of an over-charged orange SOFITEX
vehicle sprinkling Burkinabè roads with white gold. It makes one wonder if nothing could be done
for the producers. The Fair Trade movement (FT) thought it had the solution by setting up a parallel,
certified and guaranteed supply chain that would involve fewer intermediaries between the cotton
farmer and the fashion shopper, thus allowing those at the bottom of the pyramid to benefit from a
higher income. While it sounds good in theory, it remains that the movement is informed by an
ideology that is strikingly different from that of its intended beneficiaries, resulting in a set of
certification criteria that may not be adapted to the local culture.
It seems like justice in a socio-economic relation differs from one culture to another (Conner, 2003).
It is primordial for FT stakeholders to position scholarly critiques of FT and views of producers on
trade justice in the conventional networks into a theoretical framework about fairness in economics.
Drawing from a case study of non-certified cotton producers in Burkina Faso, this thesis aims at
comparing and analyzing how trade justice is understood and experienced by a) non-certified
cotton producers in Burkina Faso, b) FT cotton workers and c) FT scholars, in order to
discover how the current FT cotton policy could be better adapted to the priorities, values and
realities of Burkinabè producers. This entails the following set of objectives: a) Explore the
visions of trade fairness by FT cotton workers and academia b) Jointly make a context situation
analysis with the cotton growers to understand their account of justice in current trading relations
and how these could be made “fairer”; & c) Assess which views of trade fairness correspond best to
the producers’. This research found that the most salient points of unfairness in the conventional
cotton trade are the breaches of social contracts between the producers, their Union and SOFITEX
and a lack of participation in decision-making. This oppression of producers by more powerful
actors is seen as the cause of the precarious and worsening terms of trade for cotton, and the poor
labour conditions in the fields. This unfair situation has the potential to be replicated in the FT
cotton industry in Burkina Faso because the FT model is not adequately adapted to local context.
Indeed, in order to conform with the producers’ vision of trade fairness as presented in this case
study, FT cotton actors should adopt a CED framework instead of a more liberal approach to
development and trade fairness, as produced by perfect markets.
This research serves the double purpose of augmenting the knowledge pool on FT and attaining such
practical deliverables as triggering discussion around more locally adapted FT cotton policy for
Burkina Faso through wider intercultural understanding of trade fairness ideologies. It should also
facilitate more informed and effective business relationships between FT workers and producers,
while also serving as an example for FT NGOs interested in undertaking similar work with their
partners in the South. More emphasis should be put on ensuring FT cotton does not replicate the
mistakes of FT coffee in terms of price indexation and participation; this would include refocusing
FT programs towards capacity building with producers, and towards consumers education in the
North. This would help bridge divisions between the FT networks and movement.


Table of Contents




Executive Summary..................................................................................................................3


Table of Contents......................................................................................................................4


List of tables.............................................................................................................................7


List of figures...........................................................................................................................7


List of acronyms.......................................................................................................................8





Research Problem............................................................................................................10


Thesis Statement..............................................................................................................12


Thesis Objectives.............................................................................................................13


Why this paper?...............................................................................................................13

Conceptual Framework: Fairness and Development..............................................................15

Trade Fairness – Some Issues..........................................................................................15


Four Notions of the Role of Fair Trade in Development.................................................16


FT as having no role.................................................................................................17

FT as helping small producers become efficient enough to compete in mainstream
markets 18



FT as helping to correct for the lack of ideal market conditions..............................19


FT as an alternative form of local development.......................................................19


Study area........................................................................................................................21


Study samples..................................................................................................................22


Information collected.......................................................................................................22


Methods for gathering information..................................................................................23


Limitations and Insights on Research..............................................................................23




Positionality and Relationships................................................................................25


Methodological Issues..............................................................................................26


Exogenous Factors....................................................................................................27


Recommendations to Other Researchers..................................................................27


Fair trade: Movement and Networks............................................................................27


The Cotton Industry – An Introduction........................................................................30


Cotton industry in Burkina Faso..................................................................................31




History of cotton in Burkina Faso............................................................................31


Cotton in Contemporary Burkina Faso.....................................................................32


Structure of the industry...........................................................................................33


FT cotton in Burkina Faso........................................................................................35

Research Findings..................................................................................................................37

What is FT?..............................................................................................................37


What is the impact of FT?........................................................................................38


What is unfair in conventional trade?.......................................................................40


How is FT cotton justified?......................................................................................42


Challenges of the Evolution of FT...........................................................................44


Critiques of FT practices and rationale.....................................................................46


How can FT be made fairer?....................................................................................51



FT workers and Academics..........................................................................................37



What is Unfair in the Conventional Cotton Trade in Burkina Faso?.......................52


What can be done about this Unfairness?.................................................................60


What notion of the Role of FT do Producers and FT Workers Share?.........................65

Is the current FT cotton model in Burkina Faso an alternative adapted to local



An alternative?..........................................................................................................67


Organisational Issues................................................................................................68


Money Issues............................................................................................................69


Quality Control and Environment............................................................................70


Child Labour and Gender Equality...........................................................................71


Role of the Government...........................................................................................72


Summary of Findings...................................................................................................72






Suggestions for Further Research................................................................................79





Interview questions......................................................................................................88


Focus Group Questions................................................................................................88


Informed Consent Form...............................................................................................89


Letter of Permission.....................................................................................................92


Documentary Film.......................................................................................................93


4 List of tables
Table 1 : Four Notions of the Role of Fair Trade in Development
Table 2: Critiques of the Impact of FT
Table 3 : FT solidarity referential
Table 4: Critiques of FT practices
Table 5 : Critiques of FT rationale
Table 6 : Benefits of cotton growing according to producers
Table 7: Other unfair aspects of cotton growing according to producers
Table 8 : SOFITEX-related unfair aspects of cotton growing according to producers
Table 9: Estimated Cash Flow for 10 tons of seed cotton @ 165 FCFA/kg produced in
Table 10 : Producers’ solutions relating to the FT criteria
Table 11 : Producers’ solutions non-relating to the FT criteria


List of figures

Fig. 1: Scattered cotton on the road, Karangasso-Sambla
Fig. 2 : Maps of Burkina Faso and the Houet Province. Source :
Fig. 3: Cotton Prices on the New York Stock Exchange (Cotlook A Index).
Fig. 4 : Producers’ Representation of SOFITEX
Fig. 5 : Cotton Qualities
Fig. 6: Producers’ Representation of UNPCB
Fig. 7: Cotton Chemicals
Fig. 8 : Cotton Child Labourer


6 List of acronyms

Association Siguignogonya de Karangasso-Sambla
Alternative Trade Organisation
Banque de l’Agriculture et du Commerce du Burkina
Community Development
Congrès pour la Démocratie et le Progrès
Centre d’Études et de Coopération Internationale
Community Economic Development
Communauté Financière d’Afrique
Compagnie Française pour de Développement des Fibres Textiles
European Fair Trade Association
Filature du Sahel
Fairtrade Labeling Organisation International
Fair Trade
Groupement de Producteurs de Coton
Groupement de Producteurs de Coton Biologique
International Cotton Advisory Committee
International Fair Trade Association
International Financial Institution
Income-Generating Activity
Institut de l'Environnement et de Recherche Agricole
International Organisation for Standardisation
Local Economic Development
Locally Owned Import Substitution
Mutuelle d’Épargne et de Crédit des Artisans et Producteurs
Multifibre Agreement
Monitoring & Evaluation
Network of European Worldshops
Non Governmental Organisation
Sustainable Community Development
Société des Fibres Textiles du Burkina
Union Départementale
Union Nationale des Producteurs de Coton du Burkina
Union Provinciale
World Trade Organisation




Fair trade (FT) is the new “in” thing in development, with OXFAM’s “Make Trade Fair”
campaign, companies like Starbucks try to replenish their public image by selling FT-certified
coffee, there is a proliferation of independent initiatives such as the Perfect T-Shirt in the United
Kingdom, fashion designers get interested in organic and ethical fabric, and, on top of it all, Bono
launches his RED collection.
FT is different and attractive within the realm of development because it is based on parallel,
alternative markets. It fits in well with the new era of social marketing and left-leaning business
schools. Ethical and sustainable consumption are becoming increasingly popular, and they
provide opportunities for consumers to make statements about their own identity as
“cosmopolitan global citizens” “acting” locally by “voting with their wallets”. Buying FT
certified products is believed by some to be a way of “changing the world” though consumption,
and to gain contact with trade reforms suggested by the broader FT movement.
The FT label and brand are seen as guarantees that true-cost pricing is taking place, and they
achieve second degree market segmentation by aiming at capturing the consumers’ “ethical
surplus” (Maseland & De Vaal, 2002). Factions of Western society care more and more about
“defetishizing” markets and creating human contact between a “heroic consumer” and producers
half-way across the world who do not share the same day-to-day reality (Raynolds, 2002; Zadek
et al., 1998; Smith, 1996; Dicum and Luttinger, 1999, c.f. Lyon, 2003).
There are reasons to be sceptical about to how much sense of “community” can arise between
producers and consumers in FT networks. That is so especially given that, at least in the coffee
market, coffee consumers and producers almost never directly interact, if not through the
intermediary of biased and reductionist promotional materials that reproduces stereotypes about
exotic lands, peoples and commodities (Raynolds, 2002, c.f. Lyon, 2006). This results in a
number of consumers looking at FT as a symbol of “fairness”, without questioning it, without
thinking about the dependency it can create, and without inquiring about the field realities of FT
networks. What producers think can differ significantly from what Northern consumers and
stakeholders think at the other end of the supply chain. Indeed, when asked to name the benefits
of a FT co-operative membership, only three of the 53 surveyed members named relationships
with foreign consumers or coffee roasters. Instead, interviewed co-operative members primarily
understood fair trade as a market transaction paying slightly higher prices than conventional
coffee markets. (Lyon, 2006:459).
FT networks and FLO are based on ideologically loaded views of trade justice. They represent an
amalgam of various social movements and parties with diverging views of why conventional
trade is unfair, and how it can be made fairer. These views are often simplified and trivialized in
ATO’s literature, because of its primary purpose: selling FT-certified products. On the academic
side, although previous efforts have been made to classify and criticize views of FT (Fridell,
2007), (Lemay, 2006), (Lyon, 2003), (McSween, 2007), none put them side-by-side with a
thought experiment aimed at recreating FT with non-certified producers.


FT is a worthy initiative, probably the best consumption alternative available at the moment. But
how effective can this very appealing movement be to generate community economic
development (CED)? Most FT initiatives are already concerned with outcomes and results, and
integrate elaborate monitoring & evaluation (M&E) systems assessing if objectives are reached.
However, FT says it is “fair”. But how is “fairness” measured? How “fair” can FT initiatives be
when perpetuated by large corporations acting in a top-down fashion?
Most importantly, what does FT mean? Does it mean making markets work better for the poor?
Transforming these markets? Working around these markets? It has been said that “fair trade is
primarily about reasserting human control over a mechanism [free markets] that claims to be in
the best interests of everyone but no longer even bothers to prove it” (Ransom, 2002: 9).
Nevertheless, there are also limits to the extent to which FT itself has proven to be in the best
interests of everyone. In fact, the stated mission of Northern stakeholders FLO and ATOs is not
merely providing “technical assistance” as a service, but rather aiming to create an equal
partnership with the producers. Whether this actually occurs in practice remains an empirical
This research was conducted during the author’s 10-month internship in Bobo-Dioulasso,
Burkina Faso, in which not a day occurred without seeing trucks of SOFITEX, the cotton
company and hearing co-workers share anecdotes of farmers being pressured to load tons of
cotton overnight into the SOFITEX’s trucks, of them not being paid for over six months, and of
being held responsible for all cotton losses SOFITEX would incur during transportation. The
exploitation in the cotton chain does not start in sweatshops; it begins in the fields.
Namely, “fairness” has to be defined collaboratively for FT to achieve its goals. However, this
has not always been the case in the past. Producers do not understand the FT networks as
promoting “fair” per se, but rather in terms of increasing access to markets (Tallontire, 2000:175)
or international aid (Shreck, 2002). They do not have an active role and are not engaged fully in
direct, transparent partnerships in which their vision can be deployed and respected (UttingChamorro, 2005, c.f. Lyon, 2006), (Paul, 2005:135, c.f. Lyon, 2006). “This lack of participation
lessens fair trade's ability to capture the values and priorities of its intended beneficiaries
(Blowfield, 2004:78, c.f. Lyon, 2006). In light of such experiences, what is the account of FT
cotton in Burkina Faso? How do Burkinabè producers who are not familiar with FT cotton define
such a concept?
Of course, there are many positive aspects to FT certification, including increased labour health
and safety, social capital, egalitarian gender relations, trade accountability, market access,
security, and environmental sustainability (Robins, Roberts and Abbot 1999: 29; see also Lui,
Andersen and Pazderka 2004, c.f. Hassel, 2005). However, it is essential to understand, from the
producers’ point of view, if and why this certification is needed. Also, one needs to reflect on how
appropriate FT proposals are to the local context, in order to avoid “fairness” and
“empowerment” being imposed by Northern actors using seemingly universal norms that
originate from outside the developing country in which FT-certified goods are produced.


7.1 Research Problem
There is a growing body of literature on the FT movement and networks. It is increasingly
analysed and criticised as an economic model (Maseland & De Vaal, 2002) and a development
project (Paul, 2005). Consumers can now go beyond the anecdotal evidence that FT is the
perfectly idyllic initiative, provided in NGO promotional material and actually look at its impact
in specific contexts, using state-of-the-art M&E techniques (Ronchi, 2002) (Hassel, 2005). These
efforts stem from the idea that FT is not what most people think it is; it may not be as “fair” as it
proclaims. Hassel (2005:8) takes this point further :
“the certification regime has been accused of being thinly veiled eco-imperialism where
Northern countries enlist protectionist agendas that restrict market access to Southern
exporters (se for example Rotherhan 1999:15; Robins, Roberts and Abbot 1999, c.f. Hassel,
2005). As such, Northern governments are accused of manipulating principles, criteria and
implementation to protect domestic producers from competition.”

However, the very idea of “fairness” is never defined in the FT literature as something other than
a list of indicators and objectives, and discussions and debates taking place within FLO, the
networks’ powerhouse, are not available to the public. FT scholars and FT workers disagree on
what trade fairness is and how it can be achieved. It is very likely a Burkinabè farmer and a
Western ATO worker would hold different views on the subject.
Maseland & De Vaal (2002: 256) sum up the issue of defining “fairness” in FT in the following
“As the fair trade movement opposes to the current practice of international trade because of its
consequences, it does so on the basis of a rejection of efficiency as the main criterion. Fair
traders propose another criterion to judge the consequences of international trade, which is
called – rather vaguely - fairness. What is efficient, they argue, may not be fair for
considerations of equality. The fair trade movement does not resist the market mechanism or
inequality in principle, but objects to inequality in outcomes as a result of unjustified unequal
starting positions. It argues that inequality caused by systems and institutions that reward
people differently on basis of natural or social differences rather than by differences in effort, is
not morally defendable. The fact that the current international division of labour does result in
such inequality makes it a problematic and unjustifiable system, according to fair trade
advocates. The fair trade movement thus argues that international trade constitutes an
improvement if it has beneficial consequences for the poorest groups in the world. This is the
moral criterion fair trade uses to judge the consequences of trade.”

While this sums up the Ralwsian rationale for FT, it fails to appreciate how the interests and
objectives of FT proponents in the North and Southern producers differ. For example, Northern
actors may want to form commercial partnerships to raise consumer awareness in their countries,
whereas the producers are business persons like any others who wish to increase their sales and
margins (Working Paper 2001-4:1, c.f. Bissaillon, Gendron & Turcotte, 2006). As a matter of
fact, since there exists no account of Burkinabè conceptions of “fairness” in conventional
considerations of “economics”, the only way to verify is FT is “fair” for them is to ask them
directly, a step which has been skipped by the FT cotton networks in the country. Historically, the
idea of FT came from the North and its terms have been and are still, to an extent, being imposed
in a top-down manner onto the South, which leads to the following question, seemingly
overlooked by practitioners: “are the visions of FT from the North and the South

compatible?” This raises important questions about power, privilege, influence and agency
within the FT movement. In fact, “the prospect continually exists that FT, far from being a way of
challenging the power imbalances between North and South, can function as a way of
commodifying political concern and deflecting challenge, renormalizing consumption and
legitimizing a “kinder, gentler” food regime that is perhaps more paternalistic and less nakedly
exploitative” (Kruger & Du Toit, 2007:215).
In fact, Kruger & Du Toit (2007) best stated the research problem for this thesis. Using South
Africa as an example, they demonstrate how FT can be seen as a regression for producers in the
field. While there was a lot of debate within FLO to determine whether South Africa, as a middleincome country with an history of apartheid (during which it had been subject to boycotts by
many FT supporters), should be accepted as a beneficiary country of FT, a surprising set of
parallel concerns was arising from the producers’ point of view. In fact, by merely asking
plantation owners to conform to ILO standards to get certification, FT was negating the entire
Black worker empowerment movement and almost sanctifying White domination, colonialism
and slavery (Kruger & Du Toit, 2007). FT was not taking the particular racialised land rights
context into account and that jeopardised its “fairness”.
It has been suggested that further research combine the fields of ethics and social economics to
thoroughly examine what “fairness” means from a theoretical standpoint (Moore, 2004). In
addition, FT being an international initiative, it is crucial to recognise that this question is very
culture-dependent, hence the investigation that follows is a first step for building an effective and
adapted model in which small producers feel ownership and agency.
The study proposed here aims at evaluating the arguments put forward as the rationale for fair
trade cotton projects in Burkina Faso by exploring whether and why cotton producers think
their current socioeconomic situation is fair or unfair and by portraying the producers’ own
vision of what “fair” trade should entail. This will then permit the painting a comparative
picture between the producers’ sociological conceptions of fairness and the different views
held by FT workers and academics in the North, in order to discover if the current FT cotton
proposal is genuinely adapted and conforms to the vision and priorities of the Burkinabè
producers it claims to work for. 1

7.2 Thesis Statement
Using a case study of non-certified cotton producers in Karangasso-Sambla, Burkina Faso, it
will argued that the most salient points of unfairness in the conventional cotton trade are the
breaches of social contracts between the producers, their Union and SOFITEX and a lack of
participation in decision-making. This oppression of producers by more powerful actors is seen
as the cause of the precarious and worsening terms of trade for cotton, and the poor labour
conditions in the fields. This unfair situation has the potential to be replicated in the FT cotton
industry in Burkina Faso because the FT model is not adequately adapted to local context.

Please not that throughout this paper, quotations marks are used not to be cynical, but rather to problematize
the concepts and emphasize that there is not a single, agreed-upon definition of what they are.


Indeed, in order to conform with the producers’ vision of trade fairness as presented in this case
study, FT cotton actors should adopt a CED framework instead of a more liberal approach to
development and trade fairness, as produced by perfect markets.


Thesis Objectives

This research is based on the following question: Is the current FT cotton proposal, as
suggested by Western ATOs, adapted to the notions of “fairness” of producers in rural
Burkina Faso? This thesis is underpinned by the following set of objectives, which each of
which seek to answer a set of questions:

Explore how FT workers and scholars understand FT:
 What is FT, what is its impact, what unfairness does it respond to (generally
and in the case of cotton)?
 What are the challenges of FT, what are their critiques of FT, and how can it be
 What is the account of Fair Trade according to its proponents?


Jointly make a contextual situation analysis with the cotton growers to understand
their reality:
 What are the strengths and weaknesses of the cotton growing activity and what
are their causes? Are these fair? Why?
 How do cotton growers represent other actors in the trade? Are they fair?
 Is the current (traditional) cotton trade “fair” according to the producers?

III.Assess which views of trade fairness correspond best to the producers’, and how does it
compare with the current model What do peasants who are not familiar with the FT
propose as a “Fair Trade” model? Why? To which role of FT does that correspond?
 How do the ways in which FT is understood and justified compare with the
views of FT workers?
 Are these visions of the role of FT compatible?
 Is the current FT cotton proposal adapted to the local realities of the farmers
in Burkina Faso?

7.4 Why this paper?
This paper will be one of the first to study the recent, yet potentially very important initiative of
FT cotton in Burkina Faso. Thomas Bassett (2007), whose work on the history of peasant agency
in the cotton trade in Côte d’Ivoire is prominent, recently researched FT cotton in Burkina Faso
and Mali, through his consultancy with OXFAM America. He identifies four main areas of
positive impact for FT cotton in Burkina Faso: emphasis on quality, gender equality, move
towards organic certification, enhancing of the cooperative structure. His main point, however, is
that it is not clear at the moment what FT is an alternative to in Burkina Faso; he rightly notes
that the same channels and actors are being used, and chances are high that problems in the

conventional trade are being replicated in the FT network. This thesis is hoping to push Bassett’s
point further, by systematically presenting the producers’ own analysis of the existing structures
and institutions of the cotton trade, to open up questions as to what can be done to ensure that
poverty-creating mechanisms of conventional trade are not embraced by FT networks. It also
integrates fieldwork with producers and looks at different solutions they offer to address current
“unfairness”, to create a mental experiment of what FT should be.
In addition, FT materials published by NGOs (Oxfam, 2004) (Fair Trade Foundation, 2005)
(Declercq, date unknown) are generally well documented, but they are quite disconnected from
field reality. They point to macro-level bodies and issues as immediate causes for poverty, and
readily use anecdotes and short-term certification outcomes to talk about their “impact”. With
regards to cotton, these materials are very vague on how “generic” non-price FT criteria are
Some steps have been skipped as FT leapfrogged from setting norms to evaluating impact.
Understanding what is fair and unfair in conventional trade, and why, and what the potential
solutions are in the eyes of producers has not been done in the context of cotton in Burkina Faso.
This is of utmost importance, considering the fact that FT networks originated in one commodity,
coffee, in one region, Latin-America, and there is no reason why this specific model is adapted to
new commodities in other regions such as cotton in Burkina Faso (Raynolds, personal
communications, 12/12/07). Hence, this paper emphasizes the particularities of the cotton trade in
Burkina Faso - marketing structure and players, peasant cooperative organizing, ristourne,
solidarity caution - and some issues unique to cotton that do not arise as strongly in the coffee
marketing chain, such as pesticides and American subsidies. It is very important to explore how
the producers feel about the “fairness” of the existing social economy structure, and problematise
it so that FT actors can capitalise on the experiences of conventional trade and do not replicate its
Also, no research has been done with non-certified cotton producers in this country. Although the
research with certified producers in other commodities and other regions (Fisher, 1997; Kruger &
Du Toit, 2007; Lyon, 2006; Tallontire, 2000), can generate crucial insights, it is important to
understand what non-certified producers think, before they get influenced or even brainwashed
by the idea proposed by FT organizations, because they are the prime beneficiaries from FT.
The paper from Charlier et al. (2006) is very informative; it maps the unconscious logic
underlying the FT leftist ideology, and it models the principles and standards that underpin its
discourse. Similar work remains to be done in other countries, without which any cultural
comparisons cannot rely on solid data from the field. This is definitely urgent since there is a
growing awareness that statements about the benefits of FT are often being made without
rigorous baselines in place or the necessary downstream data. In such a context, some may
believe that the key issue in developing a working M&E system is to see whether the unique
pricing and marketing relations of the FT movement provide benefits to producers compared to
alternatives, rather than whether they are “fair” (Oxford Policy Management, 2000). Practical
research is needed to build understanding of FT’s strengths and weaknesses, to ensure the system
is improved and adapted to different commodity markets and different national and local
contexts. However, a system deemed and publicised as “fair” ought to gain insights into what its

intended beneficiaries believe is currently unfair, why, and how the situation could be made more
“fair” to ensure that they truly fulfil their mandate and reach the objectives that matter.

8 Conceptual Framework: Fairness and Development
8.1 Trade Fairness – Some Issues
The first challenge of this thesis is to define “fairness”. It is virtually impossible to even
summarise all the visions of “fairness” in economics, ranging from Aristotle to Rawls, from
Smith to advocates of the welfare state. Thus, fairness in this thesis will be approached from a
sociological, not a normative perspective. It is very easy to get lost in a debate about “fairness”,
and fall into the trap of a Kantian moral of intention. It is also clear that trade fairness has been
used by a number of actors to mean very different things and to further specific political agendas
(Maseland & De Vaal, 2002; Rivoli, personal communication, 06/12/07), for example to advocate
for perfect competition or free trade. It goes beyond the scope of this paper to name all these
perspectives and insights, as valuable and insightful as they may be.
Fairness is necessarily contestable. Although a “fair price” serves many purposes – such as
encouraging long-term trading relationships and quality – it has been noted that the terminology
is emotive and subjective (Oxford Policy Management, 2000:44). It could also be different: the
FT price can be seen as a simple transfer or subsidy, whose impact should be assessed on
pragmatic rather than metaphysical grounds. On the other hand, there is commercial value in
calling FT “fair” -- and leaving “fairness” vaguely defined in FT networks. This may be a
marketing strategy to attract a larger consumer base (Bassett, personal communication, 05/12/07)
or a way for FT networks to brand themselves in opposition to other certification systems.
Whatever the reason is, stakeholders ought to know why and how “fair” FT is. While there is a
collective sense of what is and is not fair, and this is being regulated by social mechanisms and
institutions, the concept is easily manipulated to fulfil one's self-interest.
Perceptions of fairness in organisations is an increasingly researched topic within the fields of
management (mostly organisational behaviour) and psychology, especially in an increasingly
globalised context where firms want to make sure not to antagonise employees or trade partners.
These propose the use of the following criteria for evaluating a fair process: (1) Opportunity to
select the decision maker, (2) Consistent rules, (3) Use of accurate information in making
decisions, (4) Identifiable decision-making structure, (5) Lack of bias (neutral decision makers),
(6) Ability to appeal, (7) On the basis of moral and ethical principles, and (8) Allow for changes
in procedures (Colquitt, 2001; Gilliland, 1993; Greenberg, 1987; Leventhal, Karuza, and Fry,
1980, c.f. Hassel, 2005). While these studies are best suited to work with large organisations like
FLO, none of them have studied FT organisations at the moment of writing.
Interestingly, FT projects are not only the niche for small social enterprises, but are often taken on
by diverse mainstream development NGOs such as OXFAM and the Centre d’Études en
Coopération Internationale (CECI), and increasingly by big corporations such as Starbucks,
Nestlé, and even McDonalds. Clearly FT is not only about “fairness”. As put by Kruger & Du
Toit (2007:216):
on the one hand, the success and power of the FLO label depends on the perceived moral


clarity and simplicity of the concept of “fairness” – a concept that is assumed to be selfevident, universally and acontextually valid, and expounded in a few simple slogans or
assurances on a product label. On the other hand, it is evident that fairness is never simply
fairness, and that it requires reinterpretation and rearticulation to ensure that it is
operationalized in locally appropriate ways on the ground.

“Fairness” is also largely context-dependent. As Kocker (2002) points out, there have been
changes in FT paradigms over the past 40 years; FT now targets more diverse groups, co-operates
with intermediary organisations, etc. (which has not occurred without stirring up its lot of internal
opposition). This means that, if the concepts in the North are dynamic and evolving, they are not
static in the South either.
Since many issues relating to the fairness of a trading relationship involve an understanding of a
“partnership”, the following conditions for healthy partnerships (Tallontire, 2000) will be used to
explain certain research findings:

Shared understanding of the problem or issue and the context;
Mutual commitment to the partnership;
A distinct or unique contribution;
Shared objectives; and
Mutual trust.

8.2 Four Notions of the Role of Fair Trade in Development
FT is a contested ground, and there are many different understandings of its role in triggering
development. According to Darryl Reed (personal communication, 30/03/04) and following from
the last section, there are four main ways in which the role of fair trade is conceptualized. These
four roles will guide the discussion in this paper2.
Table 1: Four Notions of the Role of Fair Trade in Development
Conception of the Role of FT

1. FT as Having No Role

Sees FT as essentially counter-productive because
it represents unwarranted interventions in the
market in the form of price subsidies
FT will not help small producers, because they will
become dependent upon price subsidies
Producers will not become more efficient as a
result of FT
Does not take seriously the problem of market
imperfections (like most of the corporate-led
growth perspectives)


This framework has its limitations. FT can be understood using a variety of theoretical underpinnings:
Marxist, World Systems, structuralist, dependency, human rights, feminist, etc. It is nevertheless believed that this
framework can adequately explain the empirical findings of this research.


2. FT as helping small producers become
efficient enough to compete in mainstream

3. FT as helping to correct for the lack of
ideal market conditions

4. FT as an alternative form of local

Does not see existing markets as unfair
Does, however, see small producers as
disadvantaged (though typically as historical
backwardness rather than as the result of
dependency and colonialism)
The goal of FT is to get them producing efficiently
as quickly as possible (some technological,
financial help, social infrastructure)
FT is only a short term transitional strategy
This view might be compatible with Sen's
understanding of justice as “fairness”
Sees international markets as largely unfair
FT can help small producers, but there is also a
need for reform to the international trade system
FT is required until these reforms are made
This position can be compatible with traditional
notions of market-led growth and trade theory
(comparative advantage)
This position is compatible with some versions of
Chambers & Conway’s (1992) "sustainable
This position agrees with the first two points of the
position above
It also promotes an alternative understanding of
development (not oriented towards growth, but
local control over the local economy and
This position reflects more a notion of
"endogenous development"

8.2.1 FT as having no role
The first role rests on a common assumption that the following preconditions define what “ideal
markets” are: a) equal endowments, b) perfect information, c) no externalities, and d) many
buyers and sellers. This understanding is at the basis of an important element of liberal
economics, the first Theorem of Welfare economics, which states that any competitive
equilibrium automatically results in Pareto-efficiency, a state at which nobody can be made
better-off – i.e. have increased utility – without making someone else worse-off. This result is
akin to Adam’s Smith “invisible hand”, which is told to direct the economy in a state of efficient
resource allocation. This assertion equates equity with efficiency because it stipulates everybody
has the same marginal utility of money and the discipline of economics is in no position to judge
if one’s utility is more important than someone else’s. Milton Friedman and its colleagues at the
Chicago School are leading proponents of this libertarian approach to economic philosophy,

which rests on the notion of Pareto optimality as a key decision rule for just economic decisions
(Shaffer, Deller & Marcouiller, 2004). This neoliberal view holds that “fair trade” automatically
follows from these conditions, and Southern countries ought to develop using their comparative
advantage (Reed, personal communication, 30/03/08).
Mainstream economics view of FT equates development with economic growth, and the ultimate
goal of FT becomes to provide the technical assistance needed to build a capital stock and
appropriate technology necessary to lead an economy to its steady state. The FT price becomes an
instrument to galvanize savings, which in the Solow Model is the main driver of economic
growth. This view argues that output is supply-led in the short-run, and demand-led in the longrun, and would then act on both the supply and demand side to increase availability of FT
products, by seeking to certify more FT producers and render the existing ones more efficient and
competitive by undertaking detailed market studies to tailor FT products to consumer demands.
FT has no role because
“it breaks trading rules since in theory WTO agreements forbid “discrimination between two
products on the basis of process or method of production” (2001-4: 5). This principle is a threat to
the development of Fair Trade, particularly because it may require limits to be set on the labelling of
Fair Trade products and on the amount of information provided to consumers, and also because there
is fear that it will undermine efforts made to build a legal framework around Fair Trade (Bissaillon,
Gendron & Turcotte, 2006)”

8.2.2 FT as helping small producers become efficient enough to compete in
mainstream markets
This view is opposed to protectionism. On one hand, protectionism can be seen as “fair trade”
nationally, because it seeks to limit the income polarisation brought about by globalisation forces.
Import-substitution industrialisation has in fact been part of the founding development views held
by the young FT movement. The FT price can be viewed as a temporary “subsidy” that will
eventually result in the producer’s emancipation and integration into mainstream markets. On the
other hand, proponents of the second role of FT would deny the relevance of protectionist
measure and would instead focus on increasing the efficiency of small farmers so that they can
adequately compete in perfectly competitive markets.
From this last undertaking stems an increasing focus on product quality and mixed certification
such as shade-grown, organic, gourmet coffee produced by women’s cooperatives. In this view,
FT is viewed as a brand that ought to differentiate itself in the global marketplace. This leaves a
lot of power to the consumer, and it is thought that FT networks will grow as more consumers
subscribe to the principles of FT networks. Development can then occur through market-based,
voluntary solidarity between consumers and producers, and FT is not seen as completely different
from Ethical trade – a movement pushing for corporate social responsibility – or corporate
accountability movements, in terms of development outcomes.
These views relate the more right-wing view of local economic development (LED). At one end
of the spectrum, LED is seen as a method for improving the competitiveness of cities in an
increasingly integrated economy, ensuring that stakeholders from the private and public sector are
concerted to ensure the town reaps its “fair” share of benefits from globalisation. This view is
likely to result in towns trying to attract corporations through a variety of subsidies and tax

concessions to spur export-led growth. This view is not impermeable to some FTers, who would
argue that the large distribution networks held by corporations will open up new markets to FT
products and hence result in increased income for the producers. A Fordist/Taylorist mass
production can be achieved through introducing plantation production into FT networks, and
hence trading-off small scale humanized trading relationships for larger markets.
Indeed, the Heckscher-Ohlin model predicts gains from trade for all parties involved, and it hence
makes sense for producers to specialise in a crop in which they have a comparative advantage. FT
is now enabling an acceleration of a country’s journey through Rostow’s five steps of
development. This is modernisation theory; the Cartesian notion of “progress” is accepted and
economies is seen as set on a determinist path from A to B, where A is primitive, uncivilized and
B is modern, desirable. FT just acts as a catalyst in the process.

8.2.3 FT as helping to correct for the lack of ideal market conditions
On the other hand, proponents of the third role of FT hold the view that “ideal markets” are based
on unrealistic assumptions; they note the absence of free markets and perfect competition in most
commodity chains. FT networks are thus meant to correct market imperfections by offering a
parallel commodity chain. The ultimate goal of FT in this view is to integrate producers into
markets, as unfairness is seen as resulting from the absence of “ideal markets” (Rivoli, 2007).
Proponents of this view advocate for the abolition of all forms of interferences to cross-border
trade, such as tariffs, quotas, subsidies and other regulations. They would also subscribe to the
WTO’s understanding of “fairness”, as informed by rules of equality (e.g. Most Favoured Nations
clauses), reciprocity (e.g. countervailing duties and trade retaliations) and the Golden Rule (e.g.
transparency requirements). For example, facing the reality that commodities such as cotton are
heavily subsidized by certain producing countries, many FTers would advocate for the
eradication of these subsidies, because they see free markets as the best way to develop a
country’s economy.
This thinking is in line with economic theory that wishes to promote perfect competition (note the
distinction with free trade) by curtailing monopsony power. Monopsonies are most likely to be
unfair because they use that power to drive the buying prices down (Berry, personal
communication, 11/04/07).
In this view, FT can be seen as a system of “governance over production, commercialisation and
consumption of global commodities” (Young & Utting, 2005). This is compatible by the
“Sustainable Livelihoods” development theory offered by Chambers & Conway (1992), which
states that economy is subject to unexpected shocks to which marginalised populations are very
vulnerable. FT can then be a way to minimize these shocks by guaranteeing a minimum price and
being conductive to the establishment of appropriate financial structures.

8.2.4 FT as an alternative form of local development


This view corresponds to the most left-wing vision of LED. Its proponents are who are more
likely to see local ownership as more valuable than increased sales, and to ensure the
optimisation of local multipliers by trying to keep the money from the higher FT price and
premiums within the community (Shuman, 2006). This view sees FT as a way to enable
communities to take control over their development process through voting the allocation of the
FT premium, and its proponents are likely to emphasize the impetus for FT to favour local
economic diversification and the development of new income-generating activities. Tools of
community economic analysis such as Reilly’s law of trade catchment area, push-pull factors, etc.
(Hustedde, 2005) are seen as more meaningful than increased sales overseas, and the training and
capacity building aspects of FT are seen as essential to creating a local business climate
favourable to Locally Owned Import Substitution (LOIS) businesses. In other words,
endogenous development is one of the greatest features that the otherwise top-down FT networks
bring about.
These tools can also be taken outside of the purely economic realm and put into a community
development (CD) theoretical standpoint, which differentiates between four orientations that CD
can take: it can be process, activity, program or movement-oriented (Christenson, Fendley &
Robinson, 1994). CD is about local leadership, citizen participation, collective decision-making
and community organization (Shaffer, Deller & Marcouiller, 2004). In this view, the goal of any
external intervention like FT is to give the local community the power to shape its own agenda by
guiding them through the problem identification and organizing processes. The ATO is then seen
as a moderator that should lead the community to find their own ways to use the FT premium, for
example. Once again, FTers are divided as to which elements – process versus outcomes, political
gains versus activities – they give priority to. Some FTers emphasize the importance of technical
assistance, whereas others consider the processes of maintaining “fair” FT partnerships as the
most transformative and significant aspect of the networks.
CD can then be put side by side with community economic development (CED), another popular
theoretical lens in which FTers analyze FT. CED is a diverse practice that encompasses various
types of activities ranging from cooperatives to employability training, from social enterprise to
immigrant, refugee, women or youth-centered initiatives (CCEDNet, 2008). CED organisations
usually work with marginalised populations, a criterion that can be expanded internationally to
include FT efforts. CED is bottom up, integrative (connections vertically and horizontally)
strategically driven (clear direction), collaborative (multiple stakeholders working together),
interactive (knowledge-based input of local people into agenda setting and implementation,
requires ongoing investment in local capacity through a combination of CD processes and
initiative mgt skills), multidimensional (wide range of concerns, such as job creation, business
growth, and connecting people to jobs within the locality), reflective (learning from experience),
asset based, based on theory and analytics (Shaffer, Deller & Marcouiller, 2004).
CED is often implicitly seen as belonging to a social economy theory in which economic goals
are a means to achieving social goals. The social economy often introduces triple-bottom line
thinking into its business activities, which have to be sensitive to social and environmental costs
and benefits in their accounting techniques (Mook, Quarter & Richmond, 2007). FTers adopting
this view emphasise the positive social impacts of FT such as increased access to social services.
This is in line with theories of social capital (Woolcock & Narayan, 2000).

CED has been criticized for not being transformative enough on the environmental standpoint
and neglecting “natural” capital. A more recent theory of development, Sustainable Community
Development (SCD), challenges the conventional production function Y = A F (L,K), where Y=
income, A= total factor productivity, L= labour and K= capital. It adopts an ecological economics
paradigm to argue that limited natural resources have to be factored into the production function.
Economic diversification, self-reliance and social justice through citizen empowerment and
improved access to information are central to the theory and practice of SCD (Hamstead &
Quinn, 2005).
This is certainly the point of view of many FT proponents who see environmental requirements
as a first step to move towards organic production. This latter technique is seen as a more
environmentally sustainable outcome than conventional chemical-intensive production, and the
fact that yields originally decline when farmers switch to organic production is compensated for
by a general idea that “less is more” and that quality is better than quantity.
This approach to development internalises externalities and views FT as a leap forwards to
integrating true-cost pricing. This feature of a Conservation Economy (EcoTrust, 2007) is also
supplemented by the product certification aspect of FT, which can be seen as a way to correct
informational asymmetries between consumers and retailers of primary products sold in the
North. This more liberal viewpoint views FT certification as a way to formalise fairness through
the creation of centralised institutions and bureaucracies such as FLO and FLO-Cert.

9 Methodology

Study area

The study with cotton producers took place in the village of Karangasso-Sambla (Province:
Houet, Region: Hauts-Bassins), located in the Southwest of Burkina Faso in West Africa. The
village of Karangasso-Sambla is the headquarters of the department of the same name, which
comprises 11 other smaller villages. This village has been chosen because:
1. It has been involved in cotton growing since the 1970s and, with its 10 Groupements de
Producteurs de Coton (GPC), remains a large producer to this date;
2. Due to its geographic location, it interacts with the SOFITEX – the biggest cotton
company in Burkina - to buy inputs and selling outputs;
3. The farmers’ stories in regard to work relations and realities are representative of what is
taking place in the country and
4. It has not yet been approached by Fair Trade organisations.
It was also chosen for convenience, since it is located 45 km from the city of Bobo-Dioulasso and
its inhabitants thus speak Dioula, a language in which the researcher can communicate at a
conversational level. In addition, having worked in the village at several occasions during her
work contract, the research gained familiarity with the local authorities, gatekeepers and


Part of the study also occurred in the country's two biggest cities, Bobo-Dioulasso and
Ouagadougou, which allowed the researcher to gain access to printed information materials and
meet with various stakeholders from producers' unions, ginning and exporting companies and
Western NGOs involved in Fair Trade.
Upon return to Canada, interviews were completed with 12 Fair Trade NGOs and academics in
Canada and the United States to fulfil objectives II and III and to augment the documentary film
attached to this paper.


Study samples

This study being a multi-stakeholder initiative, the researcher interacted with six groups:
1. The cotton farmers and their elected representatives;
2. Community members in Karangasso-Sambla;
3. SOFITEX workers;
4. Western NGOs involved in FT on site (CECI, Helvetas);
5. FT workers of FT cotton in Canada and
6. FT Scholars in Canada and the United States
The first group is the one whose living conditions the FT networks are trying to improve, hence it
is essential that their notions, concerns and ideas are taken into account in this study. The second
group can also bring a more holistic understanding of the current socio-economic conditions
related to the cotton growing income-generating activity (IGA). The third group is the local
power loci of cotton, and hence needed to be involved for this research to be complete and
possible. The fourth, fifth and sixth groups through their publications and insights on trade
fairness, contributed greatly to the creation of the theoretical framework for this paper.
Within these groups, a snowball method was used for selecting participants, starting from the
personal relations of co-workers and acquaintances.

9.3 Information collected
A mixed basket of information was collected at the different stages of this exploratory study:
1. Situation analysis; Engage in the collection of comments and feelings on the history and
development of the cotton trade in the village as well as individual stories. This involved
conducting interviews and focus groups with producers and GPC to hear the main
problems and “unfair” aspects of cotton growing, and their associated causes.
2. Fair Trade discourse; This information was collected through interviews and personal
communications with FT workers and scholars, as well as through secondary source
review, to frame the way “fairness” in Fair Trade is understood and justified by its
3. Recommendations; The stakeholders were asked to identify and prioritise aspects that
would lead to a more enlightened intervention and would take into account their
objectives and points of view.

Informed consent was sought verbally by either the researcher or her assistant before each
interview. Please see Appendix 17.3 for a written version of informed consent (French).


Methods for gathering information

This research serves both the purpose of generating new knowledge on cultural understandings of
FT and of practically determining if and how the idea is applicable to the cotton industry in rural
Burkina Faso. This is why several methods were used:
1. Secondary Source Review: First of all, the researcher engaged in extensive reading on
the FT movement, views on “fairness” in economics and international trade, the world
cotton trade, the representation of oppression, agency and partnership in FT, the
underlying assumptions and values in the FT NGO literature, etc. This provided a
background for designing appropriate tools for the remainder of the research.
2. Focus Groups: Two preliminary focus groups were conducted at first to explore how
producers represent other actors in the cotton trade, to understand whether they were seen
as “fair” or not. Subsequently, two focus groups of 11-18 participants and of a duration of
1:00 – 1:30 were directed as “thought experiments” to observe the reactions of
participants to an imaginary offer of FT certification. Questions were asked around
controversial aspects of FT, namely, gender equality, environmental stewardship and
distribution of the FT price between individuals and groups. This was done to better
understand the first, spontaneous reactions farmers would have to the norms and criteria
of the FT networks. The synergy effect caused by the group setting also lead to interesting
statements that could not arise otherwise. Please see Appendix 17.2 for a complete list of
focus group questions.
3. Individual Semi-Structured Interviews: 16 interviews with producers were conducted
by the researcher in French, and 9 by her assistant in Dioula or Sambla. These served for
the context analysis of cotton growing and to identify what is “fair” and “unfair” in the
current situation according to cotton producers. Please see Appendix 17.1 for a complete
list of producers’ interview questions. A different type of interview, elaborated on a caseby-case basis, was used for talking to community members, experts, NGO workers, FT
workers and scholars.
It is important to note that, at first, a questionnaire based on the Suranovic Principles of Fairness
(Suranovic, 2000) was elaborated and passed on to 34 producers. This questionnaire sought to
understand what producers thought of fairness and justice in general, as well as applied to the
cotton trade, using general principles of equality, reciprocity and optimisation. While it would be
lying to deny the influence of the questionnaires’ findings on the content of this paper, the
Suranovic framework and quantitative analysis were later dropped because they added little to the
already rich data. As such, it has not been subject to analysis. On the other hand, the secondary
source review as well the qualitative data was submitted to standard textual coding and analysis,
primarily using the nodes feature of the QSR N-Vivo software.

9.5 Limitations and Insights on Research
This section aims at acknowledging some of the limitations of this paper and its methodology to
ensure transparency while hoping to provide ground for improvement to those undertaking future
research in FT. It also aims to provide the reader with some perspective on the field work that

will explain some of the research findings. In this section, the first person will be used to account
for the researchers’ positionality and personal thoughts on the research and acknowledge how it
affects her subjectivity.

9.5.1 Challenges
An important difficulty was the gathering of quantitative data in the village. For various reasons,
including literacy and numeracy challenges, most producers do not keep detailed written records
of their expenses and revenues, and hence these are always rounded up or approximated. This
difficulty resulted in a certain imprecision in evaluating the actual profitability of cotton growing
as an IGA. That is not an uncommon problem; local unions and SOFITEX also run into it. This
absence of clear information makes it difficult to talk about a “fair” price in terms of a margin or
In the field, I also ran into an information trap: producers are not always fully aware of dynamics
of the global textile industry, and they often do not have the ability to actually gain possession of
and analyse this data. It is thus possible that I sometimes interpreted a lack of information as a
lack of emphasis on certain “unfair” aspects of the cotton trade. For example, the relatively low
frequency with which American subsidies are mentioned to explain the unfairness of cotton
growing in Burkina Faso may be due to a lack of awareness of these subsidies and their
consequences or it can be simply due to the fact that other factors take prevalence upon it. It can
also be a mix of both. As mentioned above, the issues of fairness in trade are challenging to
anyone, and there are reasons to think that producers did not previously engage in a thorough
conscious deliberation about it before I asked them to do so. This is corroborated by language
issues; the word “fair” does not have an explicit equivalent in Dioula or Sambla, and one third of
the producers interviewed were not comfortable in French.
This information differential is furthered by absence of comparing apples and oranges; producers
and Northern actors indeed come from different cultural backgrounds, educational and
professional attainments, income levels and social classes, and of this all inform their
subscription to a certain vision of international political economy. However, the objective of this
research being to evaluate the current FT proposal, the best thing to do is to involve as many FT
stakeholders as possible, no matter how diverse they were, in order to garnish an holistic
portrayal of the situation.
Other challenges that occurred in the field were language-based. Language was an issue and I
could not interview many producers with only conversational Dioula and rudimentary Sambla, so
I had to rely on my research assistant. Hopefully not too many insights were lost during the
translation process.
There were some other issues in the field. Sometimes producers, especially elders, would go off
track during the interviews and it was quite difficult to bring them back to the topic without
insulting them. I also had to be creative in finding ways to ask “why” certain things were “fair” or
“unfair” without giving the impression that they had given a bad answer. Sometimes the entire
interviewing process was quite chaotic. When busy doing one interview after the other, I was not
rigorous enough with obtaining informed consent; it was quite embarrassing to get to the end of

an interview and being asked why exactly I was doing this. It was also very hard to control
confidentiality. For example, I went to Tountoun, 15 km out of town, for a focus group at the
premises of a local GPC. We had 11 people to start with... but 7 people showed up along the way
and joined! Also, while I wanted to emphasise the thought experiments to know their potential
response to an encounter with a FT agent, they all wanted to share their problems and difficulties
with me, potentially in the hope that I would be able to materially help them. There were also
issues with some people asking me for favours3.

9.5.2 Positionality and Relationships
I think a short description of my positionality would be useful here for my reader to understand
where I came from doing this research. I visited the village of Karangasso-Sambla 5 times, on
journeys of 2-6 days, before holding my first research meeting. I was working with the
Association Siguignogonya de Karangasso-Sambla (ASKS), a women’s association in Pont
Wooro, as a volunteer in support to IGAs and community microfinance. I had met a few cotton
producers, often the husbands or relatives of the women I worked for. One of the advisors for
ASKS was a tremendous factor for getting me interested in cotton and he patiently answered by
questions about the impacts of cotton growing in the village and SOFITEX practices. Also, while
in Bobo, I was fortunate enough to work directly under the supervision of a prominent
government official who was from Karangasso-Sambla and was much respected there. His help
was invaluable in establishing the first research meeting, during which I explained my project to
a number of producers as well as local authorities – especially the Mayor’s Assistant – and we set
expectations. He was also helpful in securing a meeting with the Prefet (administrative authority).
His brother then provided an incredible support in terms of meals and location for focus groups
and interviews. My research assistant, who is also from that village, was extremely helpful in
gaining access to the village chief and other research participants. His presence somewhat
diminished the inequality associated with my being a young Canadian White women researching
for a higher education degree; I am convinced that I got more honest and genuine because of his
presence and endorsement.
Working with partners of the cotton industry was not always a politically neutral thing to do. I felt
that my interaction with Union Départementale (UD) committee members was relatively
straightforward. In fact, their assistant manager was very helpful in spreading the word about this
research in its early stage. I nevertheless got the sense that they wanted to look good and please
me. I had the chance to work with the new UD president through my work with the Mutuelle
d’Épargne et de Crédit des Artisans et Producteurs (MECAP) 4, and he seemed reticent to express
contention or issues during the group interview. Almost all the answers to my questions were
given by the young manager, probably because he was not elected and hence didn’t risk any
political losses from being involved into this research.
The work with SOFITEX was more stressful and insecure. I was warned by a few Burkinabè
having read my research proposal that SOFITEX could well object to it and seize all my data and
material on the spot, at their whim. To protect myself from that, I addressed a formal, U of Tendorsed request for academic study to Célestin Tiendrébéogo, the President of SOFITEX (see

I had chosen not to give monetary compensation for interviews, but rather offer some drinks at the end of focus
group discussions as was advised by a few Burkinabè.
Of which he is also the president.


Appendix 17.4), who swiftly replied in the affirmative and summoned me for a personal meeting
at the SOFITEX headquarters in Bobo-Dioulasso. Tienbrédogo himself was very supportive of
this research, he himself seeing SOFITEX emulating their counterpart SOCOMA and getting
involved in FT in the future. He agreed to grant me access to the company’s archives and referred
me to one of his Vice-President, Augustin Zagré. Future information sharing was halted after this
meeting as he never replied to messages. On the other end, my work with Toé, the CC of
Karangasso-Sambla, and Saré, the quality control officer at the Bobo3 ginning plant, was quite
fluid, although they had their own institutional biases.
Furthermore, and as the reader will soon discover, SOFITEX is seen as violent, unpredictable and
corrupt5, and it is often associated with a variety of animist beliefs 6. Despite the official approval
and given that news travel fast in a small village like Karangasso-Sambla, I could sense a climate
of fear during the research. I believe that some producers self-censored, in the fear of the
potential consequences of the filmed interviews being intercepted by the SOFITEX.

9.5.3 Methodological Issues
Forming samples was not always obvious; I would often rely on acquaintances to inform
participants of the time and location of the interviews. A lot of the snowball effect was due to
effective word-of-mouth. The interviews would often be under the mango tree next to my
colleague’s brother’s house, where my research assistant and I would conduct interviews and
questionnaires concurrently. Producers walking by would see us and come join at a later time.
Our host would also go to town on his motorbike and inform everybody that I needed
participants. As a result, we had a variety of people show up a first time, some of whom came to
the initial research meeting and stayed with us the entire time. Others lost interest when I stated
that there would be no monetary compensation, just complimentary refreshments after focus
groups. I also interviewed producers in locations outside of the town’s core, such as Pont Wooro,
7 km out, and Toutoun, 15 km out, where I chose to interview producers I or my research
assistant knew. This sample is partly a convenience sample but it is not believe to have
significantly biased the research findings.
Not all of the interviews in the village were with producers; I thought it would be valuable to
interview the Major’s assistant, as well as educators and health workers, to gain their insights. I
unconsciously neglected interviewing women, probably because the man is always the one
responsible for cotton farming and it is very rare that women have their own fields in the Sambla
ethnic group. While this paper did not focus on the gender aspect of FT, it would have been very
important to also interview women in this exploratory research; they would have provided
different perspectives on the unfairness in the conventional trade. These insights would be key to
assess the “fairness” of the gender equality criteria of FT certification and to navigate this
contentious issue in a patriarchal society.
Another methodological issue is that, to this date, there are very few FT workers of FT cotton in
Canada and none of the ones I talked to do business with Burkina Faso; they work in India and
Guatemala instead. This is because FT cotton is so new, and Canadian companies and NGOs do

For example, it will never compensate a family for having killed a member with its truck.
It is believed, for example, that SOFITEX drivers put wacks (negative spells) in their trucks and, in the event of
them being laid off, the next driver will automatically get into a fatal accident.


not have as many ties to Burkina Faso as their European counterparts. That being said, the FT
workers’ sample is too small to get much beyond anecdotal evidence. However, with the wealth
of books and journal articles recently written on FT and the amount of information available
online on FT workers’ websites and through communication by email and phone, it is believed
that the small sample did not bias the results of this research.
The use of the camera to record interviews and other footage for transcription purposes and for
Threads of Wrath, the documentary film associated to this search, was also problematic. In fact,
displaying high-tech gear in marginalised community is always touchy, as it readily attests the
differences in ownership of material wealth between the researcher and participants. This was
rendered even more difficult because there was no electricity in Pont Wooro, so there was no way
for me to recharge batteries, transfer footage from mini-DV tapes onto my laptop and transcribe
interviews in the privacy of my own house. Instead, I had to rent a power generator for a
relatively high daily price, and had to locate myself where there was light, attracting a lot of
attention in the process.

9.5.4 Exogenous Factors
One of the exogenous and unfortunate shocks to this research was that it had to be shortened for
health reasons. In fact, I was flown out of Burkina Faso 6 weeks before my intended departure
date. This resulted in a number of planned activities – visits to FT/organic certified producers in
Tiéfora, visit to the SOFITEX archives, appointments with different SOFITEX agents and
generally, opportunities for taking more footage – being cancelled, and put a stop to an increasing
process of collaboration with Helvetas. This is highly regrettable, for having more time in the
field would have undoubtedly enriched this paper. In addition, there were logistical constraints in
my not being permanently based in the village, as it was very difficult to reach people on the
phone from Bobo because of the unreliability of the network.

9.5.5 Recommendations to Other Researchers
I would recommend to those doing similar research the use of a mixed-methods protocol with a
questionnaire based on a standardised test, such as the Swartz Value Survey or the GLOBE Study,
which have been used in other research for similar purposes (Elson, 2006). Such a methodology
would be useful allow broader comparison and address the occasional lack of convergence within
the sample.

10 Context

Fair trade: Movement and Networks

This section aims at providing background to help the reader understand when references are
made to FT networks or the FT movement. It is not meant to be exhaustive, because many


authors have already addressed written about the origins of the FT movement and networks
efficiently and in much more detail7.
What we now call FT networks emerged gradually out of charity trade, a system under which
ATOs established world stores that sold speciality products generally bought from Southern
development partners (Bissaillon, Gendron & Otero, 2006). From the outset, the emphasis was
put on providing a “fair price” to the producer of raw commodities or crafts. Later on, churches
and NGOs came to use these products for their fundraising campaigns. Max Havelaar, a Dutch
association and one of FT’s pioneers, initiated FT networks in response to the desire of small
Mexican coffee cooperatives to sell their products in regular supermarkets instead of just
speciality “ethical” stores.
The call for mass production and mass consumption necessitated that charity trade become more
organised, hence the formalisation and institutionalisation of the FT networks. This occurred
through the formation of large organisations such as the International Fair Trade Association
(IFAT) and FLO. IFAT is a federation of fair trade producers and ATOs; while it is perceived to be
more democratic and representative than FLO, it has historically been less focused on primary
products such as cotton so it will not be discussed at length here. It is nevertheless important to
note that, in opposition to FLO, IFAT certifies producers, not products, and has more channels for
producers’ involvement than FLO (Reed, personal communication, 31/10/07).
FLO is an umbrella organisation headquartered in Bonn, Germany, and is responsible for
governance, strategy and policy for the development of FT standards. FLO’s membership
includes producers’ networks as well as various national labelling initiatives, such as TransFair
Canada and Max Havelaar, which are responsible for controlling the use of the FT logo and
trademark by issuing licences within their national boundaries. FLO’s associated certification
body, FLO-CERT GMBH, is the structure responsible for certifying new products or partners and
inspecting existing certified producers and traders. This business model, even if its “fairness” can
be questioned, has been largely successful in generating sales; in fact, the global market for FT
certified products is growing at over 40% a year (Quigley & Opal, 2006), an astonishing rate by
all standards.
FLO’s Standards Committee sets the norms for “what is fair” within FT. This consists of generic
standards on social, economic and environmental development in addition to norms on labour
conditions, for example democratic governance, gender equality and freedom of association
(FLO, 2007)8. In addition to these, there exist a set of product-specific standards to account for
particularities of each crop, commodity or market (FLO, 2007) 9. Also, for each of the 18
products certified at the time of writing, FLO distinguishes between “initial” requirements, which
the producers and traders need to comply with before obtaining certification, and “progress”
requirements, which the producers and traders are expected to reach with time. These guidelines

Please refer to Fridell (2007), Lemay (2006), Raynolds, Murray & Wilkinson (2007) and Barrat Brown
(1993), for more general information on FT networks and movement.
Please refer to for a
complete list of generic standards.
Please refer to
for the product standards for seed cotton.


are described at length on the agency’s websites, and a close examination or critique of them goes
beyond the scope of this paper.
In exchange for fulfilling that list of criteria and complying with standards, FLO guarantees a
higher price to the producers, to be complemented by the FT premium, which is meant to be
reinvested in local development projects. It also allows for pre-financing, ensures long-term
partnerships and dialogue between certified producers, suppliers and retailers10.
In the literature, FT is defined differently by different stakeholders. One of the most
comprehensive definitions is from the European Fair Trade Association (EFTA, 2006):
“'Fair Trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, which
seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by
offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, disadvantaged producers and
workers - especially in the South'. FT organisations (backed by consumers) are engaged
actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the
rules and practice of conventional international trade.”

FT networks are part of a bigger FT movement to make trade fairer (development trade). This
movement is often associated with the slogan “Trade Not Aid”. It has broader goals than the FT
networks, as put demonstrated by the following statement, put together by FINE, an informal
association of the four main FT networks: FLO, IFAT, the Network of European Worldshops
(NEWS!) and EFTA:
To improve the livelihoods and well-being of producers by improving market access,
strengthening producer organisations, paying a better price, and providing continuity in the
trading relationship;
To promote development opportunities for disadvantaged producers, especially women
and indigenous people and to protect children from exploitation in the production process;
To raise awareness among consumers of the negative effects on producers of international
trade so that they exercise their purchasing power positively;
To set an example of partnership in trade through dialogue, transparency, and respect;
To campaign for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade;
To protect human rights by promoting social justice, sound environmental practices, and
economic security. (Murray & Raynolds, 2007:5).
The FT movement has its origin in broader efforts to reform the international trade system, as the
political climate shifted from interventionism and regulation to free market capitalism in the
1980s. Many observers were concerned with the poverty impact of abolishing agricultural
marketing boards and shifting to floating exchange rates. They advocated for a sustained role of
the state to use fiscal policies, transfer payments and business services to ensure a minimum,
stable price to national producers (Oxford Policy Management, 2000). More precisely, their
efforts are associated with the New International Economic Order (Fridell, 2007:33), especially
with efforts falling under the labels of the Integrated Programme for Commodities and the
Compensatory Finance Schemes, two initiatives aiming at controlling price volatility and

Please note that FLO certifies producers of primary commodities, whereas most Northern FT suppliers and
retailers need to be accredited by their national FT initiative (TransFair in the case of Canada), which is also
a member of FLO.


ensuring a minimum price to producers of primary commodities. Both initiatives failed, but the
FT movement continued being active in condemning what it deems to be “unfair” trade practices.
The FT movement’s ideological underpinnings can be traced to different development and
political theories, attracting supporters and proponents from different loci of the political
spectrum. Whereas McSween (2007:43) suggests that FT is directly derived from a Marxist
analysis, because it responds to unequal exchange and deteriorating terms of trade, Fridell (2007)
suggests that FT works in the New Social Movement theory. That means it pursues the "new"
issues of gender equality, environmentalism, human rights and local economy rather than partisan
political endeavours, while still reflecting some ideas of the Enlightenment, especially regarding
social justice and human rights (Fridell, 2007:8).


The Cotton Industry – An Introduction
According to the Economist magazine (2002), cotton is the most
influential plant in the world. Not only was it at the basis of the
industrial revolution in Britain, but it also fuelled the Civil War in
the United States, was a key instrument of threats during the Cold
War and its culture is responsible for the world’s worst ecological
disaster: the drying of the Aral Sea. Cotton is also associated with
industrial piracy11, exploitative labour conditions, from slavery to
sharecropping passing by one-town industries and the Chinese
hukou system12 (Rivoli, 2007).

Cotton is cultivated in 70 countries and occupies 35 million ha.
Its fibre, which only represents 42% of the usable plant but
furnishes 85% of its commercial value, is present in a wide array
of consumption and industrial products, ranging from clothing to
Fig. 1: Scattered cotton on the car rags to beauty supplies (Declercq, Date Unknown).
road, Karangasso-Sambla
The red tape around cotton is probably some of the thickest for any resource. An extensive
system of regulations and quotas exists to protect American cotton farmers and restrict imports
from any given country. The most famous cotton agreement is the MultiFiber Arrangement
(MFA), which just came to an end in 2004. The agreement’s economic consequences were
significant, and the post-MFA era might look quite bleak for smaller producers like Burkina Faso,
because the world market risks being flooded by Chinese, Indian and Pakistani supply. Cotton is
at the middle of the current WTO negotiations, where developing countries, under Brazilian
leadership, are protesting against the current US subsidies, a form of agricultural dumping which
depresses the world price for cotton and renders it unprofitable in many parts of the world,
including Burkina Faso. FLO responded to this situation in 2005 by adding cotton as the 1 st non11


After inventing the spinning jenny, the United Kingdom forbade its exportation, and an industrial pirate by
the name of Francis Cabot Lowell took care of bringing it back to the United States (Rivoli, 2007).
System resembling South Africa’s Apartheid in which rural Chinese are tied to their place of birth and can
not access the same labour privileges as urban workers if they migrate to the city. Such migrants
are often the ones working in textile factories in Chinese cities.


food FT certified item. This new initiative has a lot to learn from previous debates around FT
coffee, to be exposed later.
At the time of writing, FLO works with only 14 cotton producer organisations in the global South
(FLO 2006). Burkina Faso, Mali and Sénégal are the first producers of FT cotton in West-Africa.


Cotton industry in Burkina Faso

The following chapter seeks to provide the reader with some context to navigate the issues of
conventional and FT cotton in Burkina Faso. Information about the history and structure of these
industries will be provided.

10.3.1 History of cotton in Burkina Faso

Fig. 2 : Maps of Burkina Faso and the Houet Province. Source :
One of the first icons one generally associates with West-Africa is the vibrant, colourful outfits.
What is less well known is that less than 3% of the cotton fibre produced in Burkina Faso is
transformed locally into the typical wax print fabrics (Unknown Author, 2004); the added value
comes from Guinea, the Ivory Coast and Holland, for example. Although many people
individually engage in dyeing, weaving and tailoring as an income-generating activity (IGA),
Burkina remains famous for one thing: being the largest producer and exporter of cotton fibre in
West-Africa, as demonstrated by the huge industrial complexes surrounding the ginning factories
in Bobo-Dioulasso.
Cotton was not always grown in Burkina Faso. Burkinabè are descendants from the Bantus and
were originally engaged in agriculture and pastoralism to make a living. They derived significant
wealth from such activities, having the geographical advantage of being in the middle of the
trans-Saharan trade involving the Arabs and the Berbers in the North (Tieku, personal
communication, 29/10/07). Cotton came to Burkina through the French, who were interested in
producing cheap raw materials to fuel their textile industry. They converted much of what was
then Upper-Volta (which historically also became part of the French Sudan, or present-day Mali)
to cotton production. The powerful French state monopoly, the CFDT (Compagnie Française
pour de Développement des Fibres Textiles), quickly became one of the most influential

structures in place in the CFA (Communauté Financière d’Afrique) zone. It still is to this days,
through the company DAGRIS.

10.3.2 Cotton in Contemporary Burkina Faso
The cotton industry in Burkina Faso is competitive despite high utilities prices due to Burkina’s
landlocked status. Despite its detractors and many commentators listing problems in the
Burkinabè cotton industry, SOFITEX nevertheless won the 2005 Francophonie Economic Prize
and the International Trophy of the Cotton Industry (Helvetas, 2007:5). As a matter of fact,
Burkina is often cited as an example for quality control within West-Africa; Togolese and
Beninese farmers often get their training at the Bobo3 plant (Saré, personal communication,
01/05/07). Cotton is now Burkina Faso’s first export product – it generates 70% of export
earnings to the country – and is the largest earner of foreign currency. It also contributes 6% of its
GDP (Compaoré, 2006). It is, as such, very much tied to the country’s heavy debt servicing.
Burkina is now West-Africa’s leading cotton producer and, according to the International Cotton
Advisory Committee (ICAC), it became the world’s fifth largest exporter, after the United States,
Uzbekistan, Australia and Brazil (Marsaud, 2005).
Of Burkina Faso’s 45 provinces, about 30 produce cotton. Cotton is the principal IGA for more
than two million producers in Burkina and is an integral part of the daily life – work, socializing,
and food – of most Burkinabè. There are up to 200 small cotton oil plants in Bobo-Dioulasso
only, and many households recycle every part of the cotton plant, using the seed’s shell as cattle
food or fuel and cotton ashes for cooking potash, a traditional dish.
The village of Karangasso-Sambla was a latecomer in cotton production by Burkinabè standards.
Being situated in the low-lands, it was endowed with heavy rains, which resulted in it being
famous in the sub-region for its production of potatoes. Vegetables grew well and the
neighbouring village, Banzon, was even growing rice for domestic consumption. Peanuts are also
produced by many Sambla women and constitute a prime ingredient in virtually all meals.
Following successive droughts in 2002, and as the domestic price for cotton reached its
maximum in 2004, more and more producers converted their fields to accommodate the new
culture. In 2007, cotton was the primary IGA in the village and provided the large majority of
cash income to households. Men are the head of households in Karangasso-Sambla, and they
often choose to grow a variety of other crops, mostly millet but also corn and nièbè, a type of
bean - which are often split between household consumption and retail. Many women diversify
the family’s income by also selling vegetables on the market, engaging in the peanut, shea butter
or dolo (local beer) trade.
The cotton producing cycle is precise, time consuming and spans most of the year. SOFITEX
often uses the national radio to communicate diverse phases of the cotton calendar (which also
exists in print form). Sowing of seedlings occurs in May, while tilling and application of
fertilizers start during the following 3-4 weeks. Cotton picking starts as early as SeptemberOctober (early picking), and lasts until April. Chemical pesticides and fertilizers are also applied
during the picking season. After that period, cotton farmers have to clean the fields of left-over
stems before starting the campaign again. SOFITEX’s ginning plants stop most activities in early

May. April, the month in which interviews were conducted, is the least busy month of the cycle
for producers.


Structure of the industry Cotton Company
The cotton company in Burkina Faso is a redoubtable, mystic and powerful entity. It is virtually
everywhere. One cannot spend a day in Bobo-Dioulasso, for example, without seeing cotton
flurries in the streets, or without seeing the huge over-packed trucks of the company clash with
electric lines. A quick ride in the industrial district of the city is an impressive tour which allows
one to follow the crop in the first parts of its transformation cycle. Ginning plants such as Bobo1,
Bobo2 and Bobo3, quality control laboratories, oil-extracting companies like SN-Citec, and, to a
lesser extent, spinning plants like the Filature du Sahel (FILSAH) and weaving plants like Faso
Fani13 fill the industrial landscape. Many agricultural research centres, such as the Institut de
l'Environnement et de Recherche Agricole (INERA), work on improving the cotton crop. They
are even pioneering Bt genetically-modified cotton in closed surfaces (Marsaud, 2005), a
premiere in the region. Cotton, in all its forms, is by far the largest employer in the country.
SOFITEX is headquartered in downtown Bobo-Dioulasso and is the national giant in Burkina
Faso. It used to have a complete monopoly over the buying and exporting of cotton. However, as
part of the governmental decentralisation process, it split into three regional monopolies in 2004.
SOFITEX remains, by far, the largest one, and has control over the very productive and climate
privileged South-Western production. The Société Cotonière du Gourma (SOCOMA) is located
in the Eastern part of the country, and Faso Coton, in the Southern part.
The structure of SOFITEX is unique. It is still largely influenced by DAGRIS, a French
brokerage and investing company, which possesses 34% of SOFITEX’ shares and still controls
the cotton oil company, SN-CITEC. Along the cotton marketing chain, SOFITEX sells its cotton
to DAGRIS who sells to Chinese importers (Ouédraogo, personal communication, 09/03/07).
After a privatisation in 1999, the state’s share of SOFITEX went from 65 to 35% (Marsaud,
2005). An interesting feature though is that Union Nationale des Producteurs de Coton du
Burkina (UNPCB) owns 30% of the SOFITEX shares, with private banks owning 1%. Some
private national investors are also involved.
Nevertheless, SOFITEX is mostly a state company. It is an intrinsic part of Burkinabè politics.
Sankara, the former socialist president who is known as West-Africa’s Che Guevara, encouraged
his fellow citizens to wear locally produced clothing instead of recycled second-hand clothing
coming from Europe and North-America. He based his “consommons Burkinabè” (“consume
Burkinabè”) campaign on cotton. The current president, Blaise Compaoré, also has strong stakes
in the company. After the coup d’état, in which he gained power by having his former military
friend Sankara killed, Compaoré was in need for a reputation revamp and engaged in massive
printing of T-Shirts and pagnes (traditional fabric) with his effigy. Some say that this electoral
practice is at the roots of the financial bankruptcy of Faso Fani. Compaoré’s party, the CDP, is by

“Faso’s Fabric” in Dioula


far the dominant one, and many elected officials or active party members also work for
SOFITEX. As many people say, “le coton est géré à la présidence”: “cotton is managed by the
president” (Ouédraogo, personal communication, 04/12/07),
Despite an ongoing lack of trust eroding the social capital of the industry, SOFITEX remains a
very sophisticated and professionalised company, by any standard. It has a very complex price
fixing mechanism (Goreux, 2003), which are based on selling forecasts and risk assessments as
well as various stock exchange indicators such as the Cotlook index. Each year, a minimum price
is announced before the seeding occurs (165 FCFA/kg in 2007, down to 150 FCFA/kg in 2008).
If SOFITEX is able to make a profit out of it, it redistributes a prime, also known as ristourne, to
the GPC. Typically the ristourne is around 3500 FCFA/ton, after 25% has been cut to pay for the
GPC’s advisors. The GPC uses it to pay its unions dues of 250 FCFA to each of the UD, UP and
UNPCB, and keeps the rest as a safety cushion or to cover delinquent credit. In the past seven
years, producers got a ristourne that averaged 15% of the minimum price (Goreux, 2003).
In the department of Karangasso-Sambla as in most others, there are 3 permanent SOFITEX
representatives: one Correspondant Coton (CC) and two Agents Techniques du Coton (ATC). The
former is the manager, the latter, the technical assistants. The role and duties of the CC are quite
extensive; he is in constant negotiation with the local Union and individual GPC. At the onset of
the campaign, the CC distributes inputs (pesticides, fertilizers) to individual GPC according to
their total cropped area from the previous campaign. To prevent cotton from gaining a yellow
colour that is hard to market, SOFITEX encourages farmers to do 6 phyto-sanitary chemical
treatments during the season, at regular intervals. These inputs are generally bought on credit
from the SOFITEX as producers are often cash-poor when they need to start seeding and treating
their fields in August. Inputs are expansive; for example, a bag of fertilizer was bought for 12 500
FCFA in 2007, which, in total, who comes up to a significant sum, often 100 000 FCFA per
Consultations are held to prepare a schedule for cotton pick-up in the department, which are
nevertheless subject to a final decision in Bobo-Dioulasso. While as accommodating as possible,
this schedule deals with the limited capacity of SOFITEX (especially their limited numbers of
trucks working a very large territory with poor road conditions) and the need for SOFITEX to
have a smooth supply of cotton throughout the season. The CC is the communication focal point
in the village and he is responsible for sending requests for pick-up and payment to BoboDioulasso on behalf of the GPC. He also handles the payments when they come back, in theory
no more than 21 days maximum after they had been sent out. Producers’ Groups and Unions
Burkina Faso has an organized social economy structure, of which cotton is a good
representative. Starting in the 1970s, producers were organized in Groupements Villageois (GV),
which were responsible for the marketing of agricultural inputs and cotton fibre. In places like
Karangasso-Sambla, the GV was one big growing organisation dealing with SOFITEX, and the
BACB, (Banque agricole et Commerciale du Burkina) was responsible for providing and
recovering input credits with each individual cotton farmer. This system allowed a lot of freeriding, had plenty of management insufficiencies and was difficult to control. During that time,

SOFITEX was engaged in one-on-one relationships with producers to recover its input credit, and
it was facing a high rate of delinquency. Indeed, at the beginning of the 1980s, 2/3 of GVs had
debt problems, which caused a trust crisis resulting in many producers abandoning cotton
(Deveze, 2004).
Thus, in 1995, SOFITEX, along with the Burkinabè state, the European Union and the Agence
Française de Développement, developed a new system of representation. Each cotton producer
was now to be part of a GPC, which typically has 20-50 self-selected members who must produce
a minimum of 40 tons/year. Members of the same GPC are co-guarantors for each other’s credits.
The input credits still come from the BACB, but now with SOFITEX as an intermediary, which
accounts for credits with the GPC as a group rather than with every individual farmer. In other
words, it subtracts the total credit from the total payment for the GPC, which is then responsible
for distributing it fairly depending on each member’s production, quality and past credit.
GPC are run as small democratic committees with a Board of Directors comprised of President,
Secretary and Treasurer, plus their respective assistants, advisors and information delegates.
Starting in 1998, GPC started electing departmental unions, the Union Départementale (UD). The
role of the UD is mostly administrative: it mainly liaises with the CC and to represent the GPC’s
interests before SOFITEX. It is also responsible for communication and diffusion of information
among all the partners. It occasionally engages in other activities and services in its members’
interest, e.g. it sells them cereal seeds at a (generally) discounted price.
The UD, in turn, is part of the Union Provinciale (UP), which is part of the well-known UNPCB,
a professional syndicate which is a significant actor on the national and international political
scene. UNPCB is led by the prominent and vocal François Traoré, a charismatic leader famous
for his advocacy speeches during the 2003 WTO Meeting in Cancun.


FT cotton in Burkina Faso

When looking for academic sources on cotton in Burkina Faso, one can find many authors
optimistic that the conventional industry can be reformed for the better (Goreux, 2003) (Deveze,
2004), although none mention FT as a solution. These arguments generally do not match the
feelings of people in the field, and they completely disregard the day-to-day interaction between
SOFITEX and the cotton growers. For example, Deveze (2004), in tracing the history of setting
up the GPC, points out the difficulty of organising producers in unions and cooperatives, which
he seems to identify as originating from a “typically African” mistrust of this kind of structure.
However, many people believe in FT as a solution for the problems of the conventional cotton
industry in Burkina Faso. A Swiss development organisation by the name of Helvetas was the
first to act on this conviction and instigate a FT cotton program in Burkina Faso. Helvetas’
primary concerns are environmental and they hence started working with producers to obtain
organic certification from Eco-Cert, which they were granted in 2004. They mobilised producers,
of which 50% are women, a very unusual distribution in an otherwise male-dominated IGA, in
four regions of the country (Houndé, Tiéfora, Dano and Fada N’Gourma), selected on the basis of
their soil and agronomic characteristics. The program faces budgetary and human resources


constraints and thus wishes to consolidate its efforts and maximise the results in the existing
zones before expanding, despite the large interest manifested by producers in other villages.
The future organic producers were organised in GPCBs (GPC biologiques) and received a range
of technical support from Helvetas and its new partner, UNPCB. The program was deemed a
success by many indicators, notably the high demand for certification from other regions. It
nevertheless had its own challenges: switching from conventional to organic agriculture is not an
easy thing to do, given the current chemical-intensive model, and the transition requires high
levels of skill and patience. Most people saw their crop shrinking dramatically because the fields
are not as productive right after a shift to organic production. Some farmers were not able to
break even with organic cotton, because of its costs in terms of labour and the time put in creating
natural insecticides from local plants and fertilizers like compost. In fact, in 2006, the average
yield was only 507 kg /ha, which is about half that of conventional cotton (Helvetas, 2006).
Mainly due to the dire environmental impacts of cotton (it is deemed the world’s most polluting
crop (The Economist, 2003), at the moment, there is more demand for organic cotton than for FT
cotton. However, the prospects are very positive in the long run, and that encouraged Helvetas to
replicate their Malian experiment in Burkina and to go for FT certification. In fact, FT/organic
cotton pays almost twice as much as conventional cotton: the FT/organic price is 272 FCFA/kg,
to which a FT premium of 34 FCFA/kg is added for community development projects, adding up
to a total of 306 FCFA/kg (Helvetas, 2006), as opposed to a conventional price of 165 FCFA/kg
in 2007. It is important to note that one ought to subtract the cost of the FT and organic
certifications, which amounts to 4000 € or 106 FCFA/kg of produced fibre. That leaves 200
FCFA/kg in the hands of the producer, which is still more than the conventional price for first
quality cotton.
Heveltas’s new initiative required some logistical gymnastics because, to this day, SOFITEX is
the only cotton company in Burkina to not be listed as a fair trade trader by FLO; SOCOMA,
Faso Coton and UNPCB are. Thus, given that the volumes are still very low 14, Helvetas was able
to negotiate with SOFITEX to move the FT/organic cotton originating from its jurisdiction to the
Faso Coton facilities in Ouagadougou for compliance with FLO norms. Hence, each year, the
Faso Coton ginning plant is extensively cleaned, and all the Helvetas FT/organic cotton from
Burkina is transported there at the same time, and processed during the same day (Renauld,
personal communication, 12/04/07). It is then transported by truck and shipped through the Lomé
port in Togo. The principal buyers of Burkinabè FT/organic cotton are the German and Swiss
companies Hess Nature and Reinhart SA15. Helvetas responded to some of the producers’
concerns by working to facilitate equipment credits for GCPB members with the Credit Union
Network in Burkina, and has also engaged in various producer training programs, as well as
engaging in crop diversification experiments, notably with organic sesame, shea and niébé (a
local bean)16.


347 tons of FT/organic seed cotton, giving 141 tons of fibre
Other companies like Mark & Spencer in the United Kingdom and La Redoute in France, are amongst the
clients of FT cotton from elsewhere in the world. In Québec, companies member of the FibrEthik collective
are the changing force, whereas in Anglophone Canada, companies like Fair Apparel and the FT Clothing
Co-op use fairly traded but non-certified cotton. Ten Thousand Villages and Planet Bean are also starting
their Fair Trade cotton programs.
For more details on the Helvetas program, please refer to (Helvetas, 2006) and (Helvetas, 2006).


There are other FT cotton initiatives in Burkina. SOCOMA has its own FT program (non-organic)
and has much higher volume (2000 tons in 2006 (Renauld, personal communication, 12/04/07))
than Helvetas, and is hence capable of serving a large European client like Mark & Spencer.
Albert Schwartzer also started a FT cotton program in Kayao, south of Ouagadougou.

11 Research Findings
11.1 FT workers and Academics
After a discussion of what “fair trade” means to people in the movement, and what “unfairness” it
responds to, this research turns to the empirical scrutiny about what research participants in the
North understand as FT: what is it, what is its impact, what unfairness does it respond to
(generally and in the case of cotton), what are the challenges of FT, what are their critiques of FT,
and how can it be improved? This is a first step to undertake before turning to non-certified
producers’ visions, to finally allow for some comparisons between the two study groups. The
following sections attempt to examine how “fairness” is understood and experienced by Northern

11.1.1 What is FT?
Northern actors define FT in a wide range of different ways, incorporating some elements of the
human rights discourse, social enterprise, post-colonial guilt and straightforward business
mentality. Here is a small sample:
 “Fair trade is a system that provides dignity to the people in developing countries”
(Tumkur, personal communication, 12/10/07).
 “FT is a way of making sure that everyone evolves and everyone is kept to pace in
how we're developing as humans. And it would be embarrassing if we actually left
people behind. And that there are 2 billion people who are left behind, who live in
poverty every day. So we set about creating a company that sells a commodity
[clothing] versus unique items like crafts. The reason why we took that on, we
took that approach, is that we believe the strength in the international trade and its
fairness comes through these markets” (Jain, personal communication, 18/10/07).
 "It would be clearly irresponsible to say that to save West Africa's [cotton] sector
that one must throw your support behind organic cotton. We are never going to say
that. But we are going to work at our own scale; the program is evolving nicely,
and so is the market" – Franck Mercerson, head of Helvetas-Mali (Bassett,
For many Northern actors, the set of criteria that FLO developed is meant not to put constraints
on FT producers, but rather to generate a value-added, which is seen differently by different
Northern stakeholders. In fact, when asked what the most important thing is in FT or why they
work in FT, a wide range of responses is given:


a. “For me, the most important thing in FT, be it in cotton or other products, is for
the producers to know that there are consumers at the other end of the world who
know, who are aware of their living conditions and do not stay put in front of their
TV doing nothing, but who get up and engage in a responsible consumption act. A
long-term relationship with the same small producers with whom we can
maximize the benefits of FT is also a key element in my view. In addition, FT,
through the extra revenue it provides, can finance the switch to organic
production. FT also allows a very high quality, and FibrEthik only chooses
producers who are super committed to that” (Fauré, personal communication,
01/11/08, free translation).
b. “I work in FT because it is a viable, cost-effective alternative to switch to wearing
FT shirts and FT cotton versus sweatshop cotton. There is a market for companies
concerned with CSR doing events necessitating T-Shirts” (Jain, personal
communication, 18/10/07).
c. “DAGRIS' François Giraudy believes that the real benefit of fair trade is to
improve the image of African cotton quality on world markets. He views fair trade
cotton as "an Ambassador of African cotton" not because of any social justice
content, but because of its high quality. Giraudy depicted fair trade as little more
than charity, like giving alms to the poor. He stated that improving market position
through upgrading will do far more for African cotton growers in the long run than
producing small quantities of cotton for niche markets at premium prices”
(Bassett, 2007: 27-8).
Materials gathered from primary and secondary goals reassert that FT has many goals, including,
according to Lyon (2006):
promoting educational consciousness-raising among consumers (Simpson and Rapone,
2000, c.f. Lyon, 2006), assuring historical trade relationships (Frundt, 2005, c.f. Lyon,
2006), serving as an alternative to both free trade and protectionism (LeClair, 2002;
Maseland and Vaal, 2002, c.f. Lyon, 2006), ensuring public accountability and safe and
healthy working conditions (Grimes, 2000), fostering changes in conventional international
trade (Redfern and Snedker,2002; Moore, 2004, c.f. Lyon, 2006) and contributing to the
United Nations Millennium Development Goals (FLO, 2005a, c.f. Lyon, 2006).

An additional goal of the FT movement is to modify the international trade system. This goal
follows an acknowledgement that the current political economy favours the powerful and that
long-term trading partnerships ought to be founded upon the basis of trust, transparency and
fairness, and re-socializing the commercial relation (Bissaillon, Gendron & Turcotte, 2006).

11.1.2 What is the impact of FT?
The field of M&E has recently paid attention to the question of how to track and measure
“fairness” and its attainment within FT networks. Their findings will be the topic of this section.
Impact assessment studies matter because “fairness”, for many consumers, who are given a new
responsibility status of “donor” or “partner” in the act of consuming a certified product, arises

from seeing positive impacts. However, the literature indicates that despite all its potential, FT
can have a nil impact on local development. This brings up questions about relocalisation of the
movement; would FT be more effective if producers had more control over it (Lemay, 2006)?
The small impact is also due to the very low volumes of FT-certified products and limited
markets in the consuming countries (Roozen & Vander Hoff, 2002:266-267, c.f. McSween, 2007)
This does not mean FT does not make a difference; evidence of farmers lining up to obtain FT
certification indicate that a higher price is highly desirable (Renault, personal communication,
04/12/07). FT can have a positive impact, in various and possibly indirect ways, on land
ownership, investment in human capital, community projects (Lyon, personal communication,
07/12/07) and market access (Shreck, 2002). However, more efforts are needed to develop
appropriate models to maximize that positive impact.
Every new social innovation struggles at presenting their results, outcomes and impact. So does
FT, although authors such as Ronchi (2005) would note that the variety of recipients interested in
such information is particularly wide for FT since consumers wish to know how their purchases
help, donors wish to know if their support is effective and competitors wish to know what it is to
be ‘fair’.
Another writer on FT impact assessment, Hassel (2005:8), accuses the certification regime of
being a “thinly veiled eco-imperialism where Northern countries enlist protectionist agendas that
restrict market access to Southern exporters”. Paul (2005), on the other hand, proposes a Logical
Framework Analysis for evaluating the outcomes relating to certain FT objectives. While this is a
good starting point, the framework does not question the top-down nature of FT, or suggest a
participatory determination of objectives to be tracked in M&E. She also fails to note, in her
“Assumptions” column, that “FT is a good thing”.
FT also has negative impacts. “The benefits of fair trade are offset by increasing debt burdens,
low prices, regular audits and outside supervision and the potential for increased socioeconomic
stratification” (Lyon, 2006, c.f. Lyon, unpublished).
In Mali, it has been shown that non-certified cotton farmers are following their certified
neighbours and adopting organic inputs (Bassett, personal communication, 05/12/07). FT have
also had a number of indirect impacts on other commodities chains leading to changes in related
initiatives, which allows questions about the notion of fairness. For example, the organisational
capacity building in FT coffee in Mexico allowed the cooperative to get involved with other
environmental initiatives during the slow season, hence diversifying their income (Mutersbaugh,
personal communication, 06/12/07). While this can be seen as positive and “fair” from the
outside, cautious examination shows that producers in this particular case were, in a way,
dependent on their FT certification to take on these other related environmental jobs. That was
the case, even though the value of FT was declining in the eyes of producers, because steady
inflation ate up their revenues while FT coffee prices remained the same. In fact, FT certification
creates a circle of moral virtue, which has downsides, considering FLO’s progress requirements
become increasingly time and energy consuming, and the benefits were going down.


Furthermore, another particularity of FT cotton that differentiates it from other commodities is its
very complex transformation chain. One of the most important issues with FT cotton is how to
trace and certify it from the field to the T-Shirt. In fact, conventional cotton can be picked and
ginned in Burkina Faso, exported through a Togolese port by a French company and sold to
Chinese brokers, made into thread in Madagascar, fabric in France, sewn in India, worn in the
United States and recycled in Tanzania17! This greatly complicates the M&E of FT cotton, as
noted by Quigley and Opal (2006) in their feasibility study for FT garments, which provides a
broad discussion of ILO standards as understood by various stakeholders (labour rights activists,
ATOs, factory administration and workers, etc.).
Most critiques of impact assessments of FT projects relate to limited scope and audience. They
are summarized in the following chart :
Table 2: Critiques of the Impact of FT

Limited scope and

The limited market does not make FT the best alternative for the
largest number of people, compared to international commodity
agreements, e.g. during the International Coffee Agreement, the
regular price for coffee beans was sometimes twice what the FT
price is now (Fridell, personal communication, 17/12/07), and
reached 100% of the world's 25 million coffee farmers, in
comparison to 3% for FT.
How democratic and responsive to the most marginalized
producers' needs can a large organisation like FLO be? (Oxford
Policy Management, 2000)
FT does not assist the most marginalized producers because they
require skills, organisational capacity and product quality that the
poorest communities do not have (Bissaillon, Gendron & Turcotte,

11.1.3 What is unfair in conventional trade?
Before presenting issues jeopardizing FT’s “fairness” and current debates involving the “fairness”
of FT, it is important to understand what major Northern stakeholders of the FT movement and
networks understand as “fair trade”, and why that is so. This will also provide a basis for
discussion and comparison with the primary data collected with non-certified cotton producers in
Burkina Faso.

For more information on the travels of a T-Shirt, please refer to (Rivoli, 2007).


What do academics mean when they say “fair trade”? The FT movement and networks
necessarily originated from a vision before its inception. Interestingly, FT is not solely justified
on the grounds of “justice”, but also of “need” and “development”, and it is clearly part of a
larger package, a larger agenda.
FT literature mentions deteriorating terms of trade as the main cause of “unfairness” in
international trade. The conventional economics cause for this, in the words of Fridell (2007: 25),
is that:
unlike manufactured goods, primary products had a relatively inelastic demand, which meant that
decreasing prices did not necessarily lead to consumers buying more of primary goods. The main
reasons for this were the physiological limits on the quantity of primary goods that individuals
could consume, the increasing development of industrial substitutes for primary materials, and the
declining productivity of raw material output compared to industrial output due to technological

However, FT proponents go beyond that understanding and identify the cause of this pervasive
phenomenon as power inequality, which translates into increasing income inequality. This is seen
as unfair because it skews resources towards the wealthier side of the distribution and worsens
prospects for society’s poorest (Suranovic, 2000).
Another central image relating to distribution of wealth in FT networks is the intermediary, the
middle man, the “coyote”. This image emerges from small brokers in coffee marketing chains
who have local monopsony (buying monopoly) power over raw beans purchases, and hence
impose a very low buying price and take up most of the margin. This is believed to be unfair by
the FT networks because of the imbalance between the value added by the intermediary and the
share of profits (or producers’ surplus) it captures in the end. There is a breach in reciprocity
between the person doing the work and the value it gets from its labour in the form of wages.
This argument points out the lack of choice and oppression of the small farmer. However, this
image is not directly replicable in other commodity chains like cotton in Burkina Faso. Like
many other African countries, the trade is more vertically integrated: there is only one buyer, but
it is a large state company, and the cotton retailers form an oligopoly. Nevertheless, the
middleman image stresses the lack of agency of the poor producer as a cause of unfairness. No
negotiation is possible for the producer, hence the supply side’s market power is next to nil and
power is not distributed evenly.
In addition to inequality, the lack of reciprocity is also put forward as a cause of “unfairness”:
according to Barratt Brown (1993: 3), the exchanges are unfair because people who sell us the
goods we enjoy receive "a bare pittance for their work and enjoy (if that is the word), a standard
of living that is a bare twentieth of our own". They give a lot and receive little in exchange.
Another argument made by international economists Rivoli (2007) and Elgrably (2006), is that
the unfairness in the cotton trade lays in the absence of markets, and “market imperfections,
[which] prevent Southern producers to fully take advantage of markets” (Perna, 2000: 363-364,
c.f. Gendron, 2004). This has been seen historically in the United States, with the cotton industry
being based on slavery, sharecropping and exploitation of migrant Mexican workers, instead of
free labour markets with competitive wages. Within the African context, the cause of this absence
of markets is often linked to internal governance problem (at the state and industry level) and a
lack of what Thomas Friedman (c.f. Rivoli, 2007) calls the “software” of an economy: efficient

police and court systems, applicable rights and laws and transparent rules to prevent corruption
and foster political and macroeconomic stability.
Increasingly, a lot of emphasis is being placed on the market in FT networks. Another cause of
“unfairness” is related to another type of market failure: incomplete information. Even the FT
founders would not condemn the market economy altogether; they would, however, despise the
fact that consumers do not have the right information to make adequate choices about the
commodities they buy, which results in real social and environmental costs not being internalised.
Proponents of FT believe that consumers have a “right to know” the production conditions of
their products to purchase in solidarity with producers whose identities have been unveiled by a
process of defetishisation of the market. They intend to do so through the creation of a
Conversation Economy where initiatives like true cost pricing and product labelling favour more
transparent trade relations (EcoTrust Canada, 2008).

11.1.4 How is FT cotton justified?
All industries have their particularities, which impacts where the unfairness is perceived by
observers. In the case of cotton, the political clout enjoyed by the American government due to its
position as the largest financing body of International Financial Institutions (IFI) brings about a
power inequality that allows the United States to act unilaterally and breach the rules of the
World Trade Organisation (WTO) by giving large subsidies to their own cotton producers
(Tumkur, personal communication, 18/10/07)18. This protectionist measure has a tremendous
impact on poverty and vulnerability. In fact, one study by the ICAC projected that if all subsidies
were eliminated, global cotton prices would be 15% higher (ICAC, 2003, c.f. Fairtrade
Foundation, 2005). This is even more scandalous when considering that the American cottonproducing landscape has been totally engineered, creating an artificial comparative advantage for
the United States, a situation that is only maintained by inflows of billions of dollars of 250
million taxpayers’ money for the benefit of a few cotton producers whose output is only 0,0004%
of US GDP (World Bank, 2003, c.f. Fairtrade Foundation, 2005).
These subsidies have a tremendous impact on African cotton farmers, and contribute to
increasing income inequality both locally and globally, as the poor become poorer. That is so
because the subsidies are so large that they create market distortions. The US subsidies between
crop years 1998-2002 amount to 68,5% of total crop value. Also,
“In crop year 2002, the US government provided $3.4 billion in total subsidies to the cotton
sector. To put this figure into perspective, it is nearly twice the total US foreign aid given to
sub-Saharan Africa. It is also more than the GDP of Bénin, Burkina Faso, or Chad, the main
cotton-producing countries in the region. Oxfam estimates that sub-Saharan African
countries lost $305 million due to US subsidies in crop year 2001” (OXFAM Briefing
Paper, 2004).

Some have argued that side effects of the subsidies are an increased use of child labor (and all its
educational implications), even starvation (Tumkur, personal communication, 12/10/07), in

This is a very contentious issue, especially given that agricultural products are current the given special
treatment under the WTO.


countries whose export dependency and unstable climate render already very vulnerable to
shocks to the economy (Compaoré, 2006).
This is also unfair because of a lack of positive reciprocity, that is, a discrepancy between inputs
and outputs. Consider four factors normally put forwards to explain economic success: effort,
talent, luck and influence. For cultural reasons and probably as a legacy of a Protestant work
ethic (Weber, 2001), there is often a strong sense in ethical consumption circles that the first two
factors are worthy of praise, whereas the other two are despicable. As a matter of fact, the cotton
lobby in Texas has strong historical and current ties to Washington and is, to this date, one of the
most powerful agricultural lobbies in the world (Rivoli, 2007). Fair traders dislike the fact that
their mere political influence succeeds in guaranteeing them a better price than West-African
producers whose production costs are 1/3 but they get only 20% 19 of the price the Americans get.
“And yet West African farmers are well positioned as some of the most cost-efficient producers to
compete in this future market if only a level playing field is created” (OXFAM Briefing Paper,
2004). This is thus a case in which the Rules of the Game are not the same for everybody.
Along with other factors, such as the appreciation of the Euro 20, the growing demand for
synthetic fibres, China’s decreasing consumption and demand for cotton imports, and the
increased supply of cotton from new countries (Goreux, 2005), (OXFAM Briefing Paper, 2004),
the subsidies – also associated to “dumping” clauses (Tumkur, personal communication,
12/10/07) – are causing the world cotton price to drop. The case can also be made that producers
from poor countries do not have the resources to individually take the US to the WTO dispute
settlement committee (Tieku, personal communication, 29/10/07), which leaves them incapable
of reacting facing this “unfair” practice unless they all act together. Until then, the precariousness
of their livelihood is increased, in a context where a small price differential can make a difference
in a farmer’s ability to provide for the basic needs of his family. In fact, Tertius Zongo, the
Ambassador of Burkina Faso to the United States, explained that, in 2001, the entire industry
could have been profitable with an additional $0.09/pound (OXFAM Briefing Paper, 2004).
In addition, Structural Adjustment Programs imposed by the World Bank and the International
Monetary Fund make it difficult for the Burkinabè state to nurture the cotton industry which, in
line with the infant industry hypothesis, may need exceptional financing to take off properly (de
Rato, 2005). Also, there is a sense that Burkina Faso has no choice but to produce cotton – no
matter what the conditions are – to earn foreign exchange to service its external debt. This debt
servicing, along with a balanced budget and low inflations, are conditions considered externally
to be more important than triggering development of import competing industries in the textile
sector or stimulating export-led growth. The fact that the US are allowed to subsidise their cotton,
but Burkina is not, shows that the “rules of the game” are not the same for everyone, which can
be considered unfair.
It is important to note that there is no unanimity with regards to the “fairness” of US subsidies. In
fact, in the event that the subsidies were to be eliminated, there would also be less US-funded
research and development. A higher cotton price coupled with a slowing down of technological


African farmers get 30% of the world’s Cotlook price, on average, whereas the American farmers, when
they receive the government’s check, get 150%.
A currency to which Burkina Faso’s currency, the Franc CFA (FCFA), is tied.


progress would be detrimental to the global textile industry, which profits from cheaper cotton
and is located in poor countries such as Pakistan, India, China, Sri Lanka, and Southern Africa
(Rivoli, personal communication, 05/12/07). The question to be asked, always, is “fair, for
In addition to the subsidies, the fact that cotton is an internationally traded commodity, there is a
widespread understanding that the price of cotton is fixed by the New York stock exchange,
mostly using the Cotlook A price index. This brings about large fluctuations in the cotton price on
a recent downward trend, which results in prolonged episodes where some farmers are unable to
break-even. This way of relying entirely upon market mechanisms to set prices is deemed as
unfair by many because it does not give any agency to producers and does not take rising
production costs into account.

Fig. 3: Cotton Prices on the New York Stock
Exchange (Cotlook A Index). Source:
(Helvetas, 2006:5).

11.1.5Challenges of the Evolution of FT
Many critics of FT are related to how the movement and networks have evolved through time.
There seems to be a consensus that the movement does not hold to its original values of solidarity
anymore. One of the common ideological critiques is directed at how the goals of FT changed
over time; indeed, there has been a significant and symbolic shift when the word “alternative”
was taken out of FINE’s definition of FT (Reed, personal communication, 14/03/08).
In fact, Lyon (personal communication, 07/12/07) reminds us that FT is a brand, subject to a
variety of institutional standards, and labelling and auditing procedures, trying to differentiate
itself to capture larger market shares. This institutionalisation “embodies a move away from an
explicitly ideological, situational, and political articulation of fairness as solidarity, and toward a
much more liberal notion that fairness can be operationalized and contained within a set of
conventions that can be impartially and objectively adjudicated” (Kruger & Du Toit, 2007:216).
This is described as a shift away from the following referential, translated from (Charlier et al.,
Table 2 : FT Solidarity Referential
Normative principles

Exchange North South "Trade not aid"
Solidarity and justice/autonomy
Work with poor and marginalised producers
Associate small producers via an organisation
Betterment of life and work conditions



Fair price and premium
Long-term engagement
Direct relations with producers
Integrated or organic agriculture
Intermediaries as factors of inequality in exchanges
Capitalism as a cause of dysfunctional exchanges
Cooperatives as the ideal organisational structure
Work with small producers

This shift amounts to saying that FT is moving more towards the more reductionist vision of the
Ethical Trade movement, which focuses on Corporate Social Responsibility (Reed, personal
communication, 31/10/07). In that view, FT is seen as a voluntary compliance to labour and
environmental standards, which is institutionalised through the FT logo and then used to
refurnish the brand image of big corporations.
Fridell (2007:24) also reflects on this change:
“From a theoretical perspective, the origins of the network's development vision lay in the
structuralist, dependency, and world system theories which were prominent within the fair trade
movement in the 1960s and 1970s. In recent years, however, fair traders have abandoned the
statist emphasis of these theories while maintaining their neo-Smithian understanding of the
capitalist market. This neo-Smithian conception, which privileges exchange relations over
relations of production, is essential to understanding the current prospects and limitations of the
fair trade network. “

As a matter of fact, the FT movement is now facing a variety of new challenges, a lot of them
encompassing debates over what fair trade means. From its beginning as a top-down initiative,
FT networks became a fast growing market niche generating more and more public interest... and
more and more corporate interest, from such companies as Nestlé and Procter & Gamble (Murray
& Raynolds, 2007:8). Along with the prospects of a corporate take-over of the movement (“FTlite”), there are pressures to allow plantation growing as part of the FT model, which cause a
threat to the original meaning of FT because they do not see local endogenous development and
direct and respectful relations with producers as a priority (Charlier et al. 2006), (Reed, personal
communication, 31/10/07). However, they do provide sales to producers, which is often the
primary objective. One could ask, figuratively: “sales, at what price”?
Although it is impossible to name them all, the following questions point at the many complex
and interesting debates relating to what “fairness” means within the FT networks and
- Should every producer be selling 100% to FT buyers? (Forum Social Québécois, personal
communication, 25/08/07)
- Should every retailer or product be 100% FT to have the FT logo? (Forum Social
Québécois, personal communication, 25/08/07)

Please refer to Raynolds & Murray (2007) for a more extensive discussion of these challenges.



How much profit must FT organisations make to remain viable, and how does that impact
how much the producers make?
Should FT allow plantation production22?
Is it “fair” to concentrate on a few small producers for a long time instead of trying to
spread out the benefits of FT among a larger number of people?
What is the best way to protect and differentiate the term “fair trade” in the face of the
new initiatives that value fairly-traded practices but do not wish to get certified by FLO?
How “fair” is it that FLO is also moving to a lower wage frontier – e.g. starting to
produce coffee in Latin-America and progressively to places with lower labour costs like
East Africa and South-East Asia – to find producers who can “afford” the low FT price?
(Mutersbaugh, personal communication, 12/12/07).

A lot of these issues arise because “fair” trade is very vaguely defined. However, there seems to
be a consensus that the recent growth of the FT sales, which are brought about mostly through
new corporate traders, is not as “fair” as previous and continuing efforts by small cooperatives
that put more emphasis on the FT principles.

11.1.6Critiques of FT practices and rationale
FT is a very interesting alternative, but it seems too good to be true. Although many researchers’
critiques of FT may come across as harsh, this is because FT is such an innovative and successful
initiative and because great care is being taken so that it is improved and does not become
complacent or immobile (Lyon, personal communication, 07/12/07). It is hence necessary to
look at these various critiques of FT to have a better understanding of what is inherently
problematic or may turn wrong in FT networks. This is important to understand how the
movement can capitalise on these mistakes and avoid them in the future. This will also provide a
larger rationale for the current study, in naming many ways in which “fairness” within FT can be
questioned. It is important to note that many criticisms are aimed at particular practices in
specific case studies, hence necessitating targeted change. They may not be as relevant elsewhere.
However, the reality is that FT is not as “fair” as one would think, as exemplified by the work of
the following scholars.
One of the most interesting scholars to study how FT is selling false dreams is Tad Mutersbaugh
from the University of Kentucky. His experience with a coffee cooperative in Oaxaca, Mexico,
provides provocative information about the day-to-day reality of such certification systems as FT
or organic. Mutersbaugh witnessed attrition rates of 20% within FT-certified producers, which
according to him are due to widespread dissatisfaction of farmers with the networks’ transparency
and their degree of participation (Mutersbaugh, personal communication, 06/12/07). This
discontent arose when the costs and burdens of certification exceeded the benefits, largely
because of the pressing demands for quality coffee that were unrealistic to meet with low levels
of capitalisation and such a low FT price. In addition, FT cooperative members often were
frustrated with information-retaining FT representatives who seemed to deny that the FT price
setting mechanism is inherently political by explaining the FT minimum price as if it were rocket


It is already going on in FT bananas, and has been resisted by groups of Mexican FT coffee producers, with
the help of IFAT (Reed, personal communication, 14/03/08).


science. In that sense, FT is portrayed, at best, in an unclear and nebulous way, which is probably
a strategy to reduce accountability.
Another key scholar to influence this paper, also from the University of Kentucky, is Sarah Lyon.
She also noted that the FT coffee price was too low in the opinion of coffee farmers in
Guatemala, and her research indicates that the romanticised vision of the FT trading relationships
as equal and well-functioning is a fallacy (Lyon, 2003). In fact, most farmers she works with
cannot explain what FT is, and imagine of the consumer as a very demanding and picky rich
individual, instead of a partner. Their idea of the consumer is abstract, at best, and is often formed
by encountering young tourists who often do not conform to the cultural norms of
professionalism and self-pride (Lyon, 2003). However, this is not a uniform pattern and there are
ways in which FT is seen, if not as more “fair”, at least as more human and personable. The best
example is when FT partners take the time to engage in relationship-building with producers,
through personal visits and gift-giving instead of limiting communications to the phone and the
Gavin Fridell (personal communication, 18/12/07) pushes the discussion out into the other end of
the FT commodity chain: consumption. He asks, is there too much power given to consumers
who may have information asymmetry? How “fair” can FT be if it perpetuates the existing power
relations and inequalities by leaving it to the consumer to decide the fate of producers? Do
consumers have the right to ask producers to organise and struggle in ways we do not need to in
Canada because our government provides social services? Is that “fair”?
Maseland and De Vaal (2002) are two scholars adopting a conventional economics approach to
FT. Using an interesting quantitative methodology based on the Heckscher-Ohlin model of
international trade as well as new economic geography and location models, they argue that fair
trade is always superior to protectionism, but not always to free trade, depending on certain
variables ranging from price elasticity of demand to transportation costs and expenditure share on
manufacturing goods.
Other key critiques or questions regarding the “fairness of FT” are presented in the following
tables. They have been divided between critiques addressing FT practices, and those addressing
the FT rationale.


Table 4: Critiques of FT practices
Certification costs include pre-assessment costs, actual certification costs, and ongoing compliance costs
(Giovannucci, 2005:34, c.f. Hassel, 2005). It is thus cumbersome to conform to International Organisation
for Standardisation (ISO) guide 65 (certification) each year and ISO guide 61 (accreditation), which
necessitates training and examinations (Mutersbaugh, personal communication, 06/12/07).
Paperwork even greater if combined with other certifications, such as organic (Mutersbaugh, personal
communication, 06/12/07).
Language issues: most documents are not translated in local indigenous languages (Tieku, personal
burden: communication, 29/10/07)
too much paperwork for
too few benefits
FT paperwork and record keeping requires skilled, literate labour which is already in short supply and
always likely to migrate away from rural areas (Mutersbaugh, personal communication, 06/12/07).
There is a high opportunity cost for poor people to go to meetings, which are time consuming
(Mutersbaugh, personal communication, 06/12/07).
The FT price is not indexed for inflation, which means the real price (and value to the producers) constantly
goes down, to a point where it may be more profitable to sell into the conventional chain (Mutersbaugh,
personal communication, 06/12/07)

FLO’s structure was not representative of its stakeholders (Reed, personal communication, 31/10/07).

In response to recent criticism, FLO has added four producer representatives to its 12-member board of
directors (FLO, 2003). Although progress has been made towards greater democratisation, namely because
of pressure from IFAT, FLO is still characterized by a “pyramid decision-making structure, where the top
often does not communicate with the base” (Vander Hoff, 2003:20, c.f. Lyon, 2006).
There is no real channel to voice complaints; the existing ones are not used (Mutersbaugh, personal
communication, 06/12/07)

Misunderstandings and miscommunications: “In the North, people complain of late or missing deliveries
and quality problems. In the South, the complaints concern cancelled orders, advance financing that is
increasingly difficult to obtain or arrives late, late payments, lower prices paid, the aggressive attitude of
buyers, and attempts to haggle about prices”.(Bissaillon, Gendron & Turcotte, 2006)
Skills developed through FT capacity-building are underutilized most of the year
Negative psychological More environmentally-friendly production methods (like organic) shrinks the production volume at first,
and that is distressing
(Mutersbaugh, personal FLO's inspections are sometimes “really harsh”
FT destroys regional differentiation of products by lumping them all together, which has negative impacts
on self-perception of one’s production.
Some norms are insidious, inadequate and result in distress and paranoia (rogue norms) by asking for more
than is practically needed, e.g. using dangerous spiky plants for erosion control on a flat terrain


Each inspector emphasizes what they want – e.g. governance, gender participation, etc. - in their evaluation,
(Renauld, personal communication, 04/12/07).
Sometimes inspectors even make personal recommendations to producers when they are on duty, which is
not permitted (Mutersbaugh, personal communication, 06/12/07).
National labelling initiatives give different deals to different people, e.g. by lowering trader certification
costs to large coffee roasters (Jaffee, 2007)
One vote per household = male vote

No real gender equity
Auditors do not get out of their way to talk to women

Table 5: Critiques of FT rationale

Low sustainability

FT preserves the status quo and encourages excessive consumption of exotic luxury products. (Ecolo, 2008)
Why import FT honey or cut flowers if we can produce them locally? (Ecolo, 2008)
The best option is to rethink, reduce, reuse and recycle clothing instead of buying new one, even if it is
FT/organic (Fauré, personal communication, 01/11/07)
FT maintains colonial power relations of the political economy from the colonial period (Shreck, 2002)

Power and paternalism

FT imposes its standards of "fairness" in labour and does not take the producers' wishes and preferences into
account. For example, it fixes a maximum number of hours worked per day instead of allowing for
producers to work more in some periods to take longer breaks to visit family living far-away (Mailloux,
2007, c.f. Gauvreau, 2007).
Perpetuates myths about producers, objectifies and Otherizes them, e.g. by saying how small producers love
to be stewards of nature (green native myth) and love to cooperate (Lyon, personal communication,
Some FT training documents are condescending, and sometimes implicitly implies that producers did not
know how to do their job properly before (Mutersbaugh, personal communication, 06/12/07)

The overriding theme from the previous charts is that, most often, FT is being criticised for the
way FT principles translate in practice. This is of upmost importance for this empirical research,
which seeks to uncover what “FT” would look like in practice, in the opinion of non-certified
cotton producers in Burkina Faso.

11.1.7How can FT be made fairer?
To conclude this chapter, there are a few views that ought to be carried from Northern
stakeholders and academics proposing reforms to the FT networks for an increased “fairness”.
Here they are:
a. FT networks should contribute to discussion around how to reform conventional
trade, following the efforts by Goreux (2003) (2005), (Unknown Author, 2004)
b. FT producers should be rendered more competitive (Gendron, 2004)
c. The focus of FT should stay on human capital and appropriate technology (Barrat
Brown and Adam (1999), c.f. McSween, 2007)
d. Value should be added in country as much as possible (Helvetas, 2006)23
e. The fixing of the FT price should be always done collaboratively, in line with the
original vision: " in these alternative markets, prices would not be determined by
the vagaries of supply and demand but would be formed through a process of
negotiation between producers in the South and consumers in the North, based on
the premise of fairness to all parties (Waridel, 2002: 93-5; Simpson and Rapone,
2000, c.f. Fridell, 2007).
f. The definition of “fairness” should be more large : “Conceptually, the notion of a
fair price would go beyond the unrealised aspiration of mainstream economists for
a degree of "procedural fairness ", such as free and consistent access to
information for all trading parties, and include the goal of "outcome fairness"
designed to ensure that no trading partners are exploited or deprived in
comparison to others (Blount 1997: 244-7)"
g. Proponents of the FT networks should become more engaged in the FT movement,
who seeks broader change in international trade and reduced inequality, goals who
cannot be only achieved through selling FT products (Raynolds, personal
communication, 12/12/07). FT consumers should become FT citizens, and refrain
from letting their identity being reduced to merely that of a consumer (Fridell,
personal communication, 18/12/07).



This section now turns to empirical results with the non-certified cotton producers. It argues that
producers identify the “unfairness” in the cotton trade mainly at the local level; there is very little
external blame mentioned by the producers. The principal issue is the current price level does not
allow them to make a living given the inputs prices. However, the terminology used around
SOFITEX and the UNPCB reveals that the lack of real partnerships (Tallontire, 2000) is the main
cause of this unfairness, because it does not allow for meaningful participation by the producers.

In fact, Helvetas wishes to make FT/organic thread at Filsah and sell it to sub-regional, North African and
European markets through Hess-Nature. To this effect, it started encouraging knitting with organic cotton with
different women groups in Burkina.

When asked to construct FT as a thought experiment, the result is similar to what FT networks
offer, with the emphasis overwhelming placed on raising the price of cotton. Producers were also
found to agree with the split between the FT price and premium and the environmental criteria of
FT, but where resistant to its gender equality criterion.

11.2.1What is Unfair in the Conventional Cotton Trade in Burkina Faso?
A range of different reasons are given to explain the current socio-economic situation, which
producers consider as unfair. However, this has not always been the case and the change is mostly
due to trends in prices and partnership.
The current price for cotton, 165 FCFA/kg in 2007 falling to 150 FCFA/kg in 2008, is perceived
as too low. This can be compared to input prices, 12,500 FCFA/bag of fertilizer in 2007 rising to
15,000 FCFA/bag in 2008, which are seen as too high. While producers were able to realize
considerable economic growth in the village after cotton growing started, its extent is highly
dependent on the price. The declining cotton price has been the most significant issue noted by
producers. Cotton is said not to be as profitable as other crops or vegetables (especially potatoes)
and not to be profitable for everybody. The downward price trend comes in with its range of
uncertainty that makes it difficult for producers to plan. Producers often have to start sewing in
April or May, before the price for cotton is announced, which results in them “living in a blur in
which they don’t know which basis to work upon”.
Another reason why the price issue is so important is that producers consistently identified cotton
with positive factors when looking back at the 2002 season, where the price was 215 FCFA/kg.
When asked about the benefits of cotton growing, producers identified the following benefits:
Table 6 : Benefits of cotton growing according to producers
Provides cash income to:
 buy consumption goods such as mopeds and
motorbikes, cars
 invest in assets a better house with metal roof
 invest in work material, labour bulls, donkeys, mills,
 invest in human capital through educating children
 afford getting married or taking up more wives
Brings a better quality of life (eat better, more meat in the
soup, more leisure activities in the village, better familial
climate because people are happier)
Allows more financial independence from the family member
who has a better paid job
Stimulates the local economy, like the pharmacy, the Peuls
who sell bulls, the moped/motorbike vendors, etc.
Cotton production also:
 keeps clothing prices down domestically
 provides fertilizers to use for corn and other cereals

has environmental benefits (make the soils richer,
allows maize to grow better, allows renewal of the

In addition, the fact that the price of cotton is known in advance of harvesting (it is usually
announced in April) was said to reduce the vulnerability of producers to arbitrage or local
“coyotes”, who are infamous in the cereal trade for crunching the price during the high season.
Also, the fact that the cotton money usually comes all at once 24 results in a “lottery winner”
phenomenon. Producers find it easier to save when they get paid in a lump sum than if they get a
larger overall income but in small daily installments as they would when they sell vegetables, for
instance. This is mostly due to an historical lack of formal savings institutions in the village 25.
Producers say this single large payment, on top of being encouraging and motivating, makes it
easier to mobilize funds for health expenses; it is said that people die less because they have
money to pay for transportation to the hospitals in Bobo.
It is important to note that all these positive aspects are much dependent on the going price. As
put forwards by a participant: “cotton growing is like a bid; you put money aside and then at a
certain point it accumulates and then it comes!” This is not the only instance in which producers
seem to place bets on their own livelihoods with cotton; another participant mentioned that if they
have their cotton weighed many times during the season, it gives them more chances to have their
cotton rated first choice! These behaviours relating to risk indicate that farmers have grown to
live with risk and consider it normal, although their use of such terms as “delay”, “late”,
“unpredicted”, “bad surprise”, “bad consequence”, “vulnerability” indicate that they still see it as
negative. This is especially true given the huge time commitment needed for cotton and the lack
of flexibility of the IGA.
A number of other factors were identified to be “unfair” by producers. They are summarised in
the following chart, in order of importance:


GPC can ask for numerous demands for payments to SOFITEX but they usually find it cumbersome and
useless because a lot of the incoming money has to be used to settle their debt with SOFITEX so they find it
better to run through the whole process when their entire production has been picked.


There is a new savings institution in the village, the Mutuelle d’Épargne et de Crédit des Artisans et des
Producteurs du Burkina (MECAP/B), which is linked to the Austrian Cooperation. During the researcher’s
internship, she tied links between MECAP/B and the local women’s association, and was able to see a
general interest in the village for the institution, although many people are still suspicious of it because it is
so new and is not fully receptive to lending to cotton growers because of the high risk (Koné, personal
communication, DATE). The UD were also launching their own savings and credit institution (NAME?) in
2007 to fill that gap.

Table 7: Other unfair aspects of cotton growing according to producers
Indebtedness plays a lot on people's character (stress, tensions)
Asset liquidation or seizure of assets by other GPC members, hence jeopardizing
fulfillment of basic needs


Vulnerability and precariousness: people live day by day and if the harvest is not good, you
become indebted easily
Picking cotton is difficult, it demands more physical effort than other crops
Very labour intensive
Takes up the entire year
Transportation issues; sometimes producers have to carry their cotton for a week in the
donkey cart from their field to town when it would have filled the entire truck by itself
Hired labour is expensive; on top of paying them 500 FCFA per day "you have to use your
wife's groundnuts, kill your chickens and prepare tô (local staple food) and sauce for
everybody! Sometimes you have to sell your cow for that!"
Filling SOFITEX trucks often takes entire nights and is very tiring
Cotton is not edible so when you don't have money, you starve or you have to steal. "cotton
brought famine to Burkina"
People have to sell their cereals to have money to hire labourers at 500 FCFA/day in cotton
fields, then they have to buy cereals or they don't have anything to eat
Cotton is the only cash crop so without it peasants have trouble getting money
When cotton money comes the price of everything else goes up


of Cotton is a family crop so each family member has incentives to be a "free rider" and not
engage in making cash-flow and profitability previsions
There are barriers to entry and exit because you have to be part of a GPC to participate


A lack of alternatives is an artificial barrier to exit, as also mentioned by (r29, free
translation): "even though income per capita is low in cotton regions, they would be even
lower without cotton because it's the only cash crop. In the USA, Australia and Brazil,
farmers can easily grow corn or soy, but substitution alternatives are often much more
limited in the Sahelian region, with niébé being the only alternative"


Causes conflicts: "disagreements on who should get the cotton money when many people
work together arise: it brings conflict and division within families, villages and
disagreements amongst people, really, cotton growing brought lots of quarrels! Even within
your family, your household, because work is very difficult, then when money comes and
it's little, it sours everything around its management, it's difficult. When you sell your
cotton, you're tired, there are no machines, it's all hand-picked, but we have no choice but
we need to work anyways, so it brings people to speak badly"
Alcoholism: "you should see the anarchy here, when money comes, people take 2-3-4-5
kegs of beer and it's due to cotton because the peasant would never sell his cereals or maize
to drink like this"

Sexual effects; polygamy shows status. "when you have money you do not limit yourself to
only one wife", precarious marriages and pregnancies for school girls with whom cotton
growers flirt because they are drunk
Suicides: each year producers swallow chemicals intentionally
People run-away and disappear to escape debt
Ethnic tension: "the Peul's cows walk in your field and destroy your harvest!"
Individualism : "cotton growing erodes this sense of solidarity that we know to be typically



No adequate protection when doing chemical treatment, unlike SOFITEX's “commando
intervention team”, which wears “astronaut gear” when they come to spray fields
Side effects of products : itchy eyes, headaches, stomach aches, hard to breathe, flu, fever
Local beer is sold in old bottles of cotton inputs, mainly pesticides
Lack of money management skills
Accounting and management training not applied in practice due to lack of documents and
lack of resources to renew them, or intellectual or literacy limits of GPC leaders
Less study time: children busy in fields on the week-end instead of studying
Impact on productivity : children tired on Mondays and do not assimilate material
Some absenteeism, especially for students from out of town going home to work in cotton
fields on week-ends
Lack of monitoring and parental involvement in education because more emphasis is put on
School term starts lat; from October 1st to November 10th, the school is open but no
students come because they are in the cotton fields

on Peer pressure: drop-out children influence students to leave school to take up their
responsibilities in cotton picking associations

Delicate precipitation balance; if too much, cotton rots, if too little, it flies off
Many voracious cotton pests

However, the majority of the unfairness is said to originate from the working relations with
SOFITEX and the Union. SOFITEX is represented using the following terminology:



Not transparent



Inflexible and


Fig. 4 : Producers’ Representation of SOFITEX
The SOFITEX practice that is most criticised
and dreaded by producers is its field quality
control. In fact, to determine whether a
producer’s cotton is 1st choice (and gets paid
165 FCFA/kg) or 2nd choice (and gets paid
135 FCFA/kg), a SOFITEX agent called a
conditionneur grabs a handful of cotton and
provides a diagnostic based on his appraisal
of the fibre’s colour and length. That decision
has an enormous impact on the farmers
because, over hundreds of tons, a few CFA
per kg make a big difference.
Fig. 5 : Cotton Qualities
The conditionneurs have incentives to declassify the cotton. As one participant reminds us, they
are hired by contract and due to high rates of unemployment, the company can allow itself to
dictate quotas to be met for each quality and only rehire those who fulfill them and saving the
company money. Instances of the conditionneur asking for bribes to class one’s cotton 1 st choice
have also been observed. These two things are denied by SOFITEX (Saré, personal
communication, 01/05/07) which, instead, emphasises how the cotton fibre has to allow for a
durable, elastic, long and regular thread in order to be competitive and to generate revenue on the
international market.

Not only corruption and selfishness, but also a lack of transparency, are recurring themes here.
Indeed, producers note the lack of formal outlet for voicing their complaints. One the one hand, a
Comité de Litige exists to settle disputes, and producers can turn to it in case of disagreement
with the company. In that case, their cotton, which is systematically tracked and identified from
the field to the exporting port, will be subject to inspection by a team of professionals whose
reputation is beyond question in West-Africa according to cotton experts like Goreux (2003). The
quality control laboratories in the Bobo3 plant are equipped to perform up to 12 tests, ranging
from color and humidity to fibre’s length, impurities and refractivity, to satisfy international
quality norms. While this can be considered alienating 26, it is said to be impartial by its director
(Saré, personal communication, 01/05/07); however, that is definitely not the impression one gets
from interacting with peasants in the field. The lack of trust is flagrant; doubt is at the centre of
the day-to-day working relationship between these “partners”.
In addition, the quality process is mostly unexplained to producers, who think there should be a
plant for each quality of cotton (to avoid mixing), but who then doubt SOFITEX’s claims when
they realize the same ginning plant treats all the qualities. Despite SOFITEX’s constant emphasis
on ameliorating yields and quality, peasants do not verbally appreciate the reasons and
importance of it. They do not seem to have an idea of how competitive and segmented the world
competition in cotton is, and how West-Africa has to fight against entrenched prejudices due to
the past presence of plastic chemicals leaking from the pick-up bags into the cotton (Saré,
personal communication, 01/05/07).
For producers, SOFITEX’s reputation is at best disputable. The company has been accused by a
UNPCB member to be manipulating accounting data (Bassett, 2007). This seems paradoxical
because SOFITEX has been praised for making its financial statements available online and to
researchers (Goreux, 2003), while other cotton companies in West-Africa did not open their
books to a World Bank consultant. This is also surprising given that private companies in Burkina
Faso are not obligated to provide information about costs and revenue to the public (Bassett,
2007). But as long as there is suspicion, there is an observation to be made about the lack of
social capital in the conventional cotton trade.
There is a lack of communication and transparency between SOFITEX and the producers,
especially with regards to the price. Farmers are aware of the company overinflating its costs in
different ways. For example, the SOFITEX truck drivers are well-known for selling their extra
gas in the village for their own benefit, because there is no control on the quantities used. Another
thing is the embezzlement continued at the senior management level; management is accused by
producer of making payments on their five villas mortgages and three cars by having their own
cotton fields and benefiting from preferential rates. The producers know these practices affect the
price they are getting paid, and it surely sours their relation to the company as a whole.
In addition, SOFITEX puts pressure on producers, forcing them to work at night to fill its trucks.
In general, the company is not courteous and takes advantage of its monopsony power to threaten
producers by reminding them of their lack of alternatives. As put by one producer: “as a poor
person, if someone helps you, you have to accept everything that he does or says to you”.
Peasants are strictly subject to SOFITEX’s timetables. Indeed, the company comes up with a

Producers’ acquired and precise practical knowledge of the quality of their crop is devalued because it is not taken
into account by the SOFITEX. This has a negative psychological impact that ought not to be neglected.

calendar at the beginning of the year, which is unresponsive to natural conditions such as
precipitation rates that can highly affect the crop.
Another cause of unfairness relates to how little the producers perceive themselves to be involved
in decision making activities. While the sense of “local ownership” of the IGA is not present,
there is a strong sense of SOFITEX acting unilaterally and not consulting producers and their
representatives sufficiently. An example in Karangasso would be how SOFITEX invites 1-2 GPC
representatives to sit on committees to plan and monitor marketing, but how ultimately it’s the
CC who writes the cotton evacuation orders. The resulting schedule is said by the CC to be based
on data from the GPC (Toé, personal communication, 26/04/07), but it is also said by the
producers to vary constantly. The scheduled pick-up days are often broken, and GPC leaders do
not have any recourse.
A downward trend in SOFITEX-producers relations is identified by participants. Before the
producers were organised in GPC, all credits were engaged directly with the company instead of
under solidarity caution within the GPC. At that time, SOFITEX was said to be more forgiving
and could wait an extra season before recovering their credit. It was also “naive” and gave inputs
and seeds out for free, a practice which they stopped, apparently, because some producers were
grinding the seeds to get flour and sell it. This is denied by producers.
Finally, the most recurring set of unfair aspects of cotton growing are directly SOFITEX-related.
They all tell the same story: SOFITEX is unreliable, as demonstrated by the following chart:
Table 8 : SOFITEX-related unfair aspects of cotton growing according to producers
Errors in order deliveries
Delays in delivering inputs
Input problems

Favouring certain producers as not everybody gets their inputs on the same
Other field work, e.g. cleaning the field for the following harvest, is delayed

Some field work rendered impossible due to timing issue, e.g. no time to
train new bulls because when the money comes it's already time to pick
cotton again
Necessary to sell cereals to cover certain expenses
of Necessary to take commercial loans with loan sharks
payment delays (up to
six months)
No money for health care or other emergencies when it's needed
Money comes too late to pay for tuition, and since student loans are
unavailable, parents have to liquidate assets (like bulls) or not send their
children to school
Money comes when cotton cropping has started again so there is no idle
period in which people could do other IGAs even if they wanted too

The Union, for its part, is talked about by the producers in the following terms:
Non producerDisconnected from
producers’ intereststs

Not representative

Badly managed

SOFITEX sellouts


Fig. 6 : Producers’ Representation of UNPCB
Producers’ are not content with the UNPCB, which is said to not be working hard enough
towards concretizing gains for those it represents. Through noticing how UNPCB does not fight
to get a better price for the producers’ cotton and how it is progressively charging higher prices
for the cereal seeds it is supposed to sell to producers at heavily discounted rates, producers
increasingly feel that the UNPCB is a SOFITEX sell-out. Its charismatic leader, François Traoré,
however popular he may be in the West for its forefront role in loudly denouncing US subsidies
at the 2003 WTO meeting in Cancun, is considered corrupt by the producers in KarangassoSambla. He is often designated as a ‘government official’, which alludes to the bureaucratisation
of the UNPCB and its new distance and disconnection from the interests of its intended
beneficiaries. UNPCB is largely viewed as a puppet of SOFITEX.
The UNPCB is not the real syndicate it should be in the eyes of the producers. Some people are
of the opinion that while the organisational structure is good a priori, but it is badly managed; the
leaders live on the money of the producers and do not give enough in return. As someone put it in
a focus group discussion: “UNPCB is like a machete we paid to give to SOFITEX so that it cuts
our throats with it. Before, UNPCB members were cotton growers like us, but now I don’t see the
importance of it because it doesn’t do anything for us. They have to come remind us again why
they created such a structure”.
The UNPCB’ role as a representative of the farmers is to find solutions to problems arising
between partners and in the industry in general. It would then act according to its role if it made a
genuine effort to address the negative aspects of cotton growing brought forwards by the farmers.
The farmers are unhappy with the UD of Karangasso-Sambla, as demonstrated by many of them
walking out of the annual assembly meeting. Some of the issues raised in that meeting were
corruption – theft – by the former president of the UD. The entire session carried a general

sentiment of resentment, because most farmers had not been paid by SOFITEX yet at the time of
the meeting.

11.2.2What can be done about this Unfairness? What would “Fair Trade” be?
When asked what their suggestions for a “fairer” trade would be, producers primarily stress
issues of price and costs, as well as other things the FT networks theoretically address (crop
diversification, training, the environment, etc.). They also want more external intervention in the
industry to diminish poverty, but primarily to reduce inequalities.
Overwhelmingly, and in parallel to the causes of unfairness outlined above, the most recurrent
solutions pointed out by the producers were to increase the price for cotton and to decrease the
price of inputs. This is what the producers want and what politicians from the ruling party, the
Congrès pour la Démocratie et le Progrès (CDP), have been promising for years. When asked to
what levels, the producers answered that it has to cover production costs. This can be achieved
through government subsidies. In fact, Burkinabè producers call for more market intervention
from the ruling party, which they see as inactive and unresponsive to their needs.
In addition to being paid more, their wish is to be paid in smaller, regular installments, so that
they still get a high sum each time but they can also use that money to start up a parallel IGA.
This would bring about a feeling of security.
Another way to stimulate the emergence of such a positive feeling is to give the power back to
the producers for their own IGA. Producers pointed out different ways of doing that. The most
important one is to announce the price of cotton and inputs earlier on, so that each person can
make their own operating projections for the campaign and hence be in a position to make an
informed choice about whether to plant or not, and how much. In fact, there is a lack of a clear,
systematic and scientific analysis of profitability that accounts for all the costs of the producers.
This may be because of the tendency that producers have to not count their “wage” as an
expense, and to associate it with the final profit. While they value their labour and a large
majority of them know most of the costs implied – inputs, hiring labour, cooking, transportation,
union dues, etc.27 – none of these estimates comprise key economic variables such as the wage or
depreciation of capital. The researcher worked with a few producers to establish the following


Table 9 : Estimated Cash Flow for 10 tons of seed cotton @
165 FCFA/kg produced in Karangasso-Sambla
1 650 000 FCFA
Expanses (less labour)
Inputs - 1 000 000 FCFA
Hired Labour - 125 000 FCFA
Food Costs - 200 000 FCFA
Transportation - 105 000 FCFA
Total expanses = 1 430 000 FCFA
Profits = 220 000 FCFA (509$)28

The lack of a comprehensive data set has been pointed out by the UD manager as one of the
biggest obstacles for the cotton industry because, according to him, the price fixed by SOFITEX
should be determined as a function of the costs of production, not as a function of the fluctuations
of world supply and demand.
Alongside these monetary considerations, farmers stress other suggestions that have their
equivalents in the FT proposal:
Table 10 : Producers’ solutions relating to FT criteria

Get management training; bookkeeping, financial planning
Informal education
Favour other IGA (e.g. bananas, millet) as alternatives to


There needs to be more than one alternative crop because
otherwise it will saturate the local market and the price will
go down, which will benefit the consumer but not the
Other cash crops for export, especially cereals for which it
is difficult to find a European market



Encourage farmers to plant trees
Run agroforestry experiments




Another estimates that if the field yields well, it should give 37 000 FCFA of profit per ha (app. 86$/ha), as
one ha cannot yield more than 1-1/2 ton, compared to 100 000 FCFA of profits per ha (app. 231,50$/ha) on average
for cereals.

Tap certain local species - e.g. acacia - to preserve water
Use organic manure
Use compost
Be consulted when fixing cotton price because everything
Consultation and is imposed in cotton, in contrast to other crops where the
producer is free to sell to whoever and at whichever price
he wants
Abolish American Because the American government signed to the WTO
principles and should hence respect them (condemning

Some of the solutions proposed diverge from the FT networks’ approach. They are often casespecific and related specifically to the Burkinabè cotton trade at the micro-level:
Table 11 : Producers’ solutions non-relating to the FT criteria
Clear SOFITEX of unnecessary expenses

Cut down operating costs of so that producers can get a
higher margin
Less stringent quality control
Change the management to improve organisation.
Further cut SOFITEX taxes to ensure the lowest possible
input prices


Ensure political independence of SOFITEX to avoid
conflicts of interest29
Channel foreign aid directly to producers
Subsidize cotton
Favour technological change (through more capital,
machinery and equipment)


Better use of cotton by-products to create value-added
and earn income, e.g. as biofuel or firewood
Technical knowledge exchange with the Americans and
Forbid Americans to grow cotton because they have other


SOFITEX and CDP are tightly linked; many SOFITEX officials are also very active in the ruling party.€
While the impact of this is a contentious issue, there are fears amongst the population that this threatens the
objectivity of the company and compromises the way it should make decisions. A similar case happened in Burkina
with Faso Fani, a weaving plant that went bankrupt after the CDP election from having printed too many free TShirts with the President’s picture and slogan.

An examination of this table imposes the conclusion that all these solutions aim at reducing the
producers’ vulnerability, through stabilizing and diversifying strategies, and improving their
economic situation. This is seen as a right by producers; a right that has been violated by
asymmetric partnerships.
At the same time, there seems to be a general desire among the producers from this sample to
galvanize more national and international support for their plight. While some use the term pity,
most producers use the words support and partnership, which corroborates the previous finding
that producers want justice, not charity.
There are two ways of looking at this:
- “The US is more advanced technologically and they have more machines, so they should
help us."
- “We are poor so we should be helped”; there is an implicit referral to inequality here;
however, the most important feature is the need of producers for a better price, which
calls to humanitarian sentiments, for a solution that is more charitable.
The first vision is more prevalent. According to that view, American cotton farmers should invest
in capital in Burkina Faso, by buying equipment, supplies and so on. The shared activity of cotton
cropping is enough to create an identification and sense of community in the eyes of the
producers, and justifies their demands. Cotton farmers everywhere are “in the same boat”;
however, there is a striking inequality of opportunity. Hence, it follows that the most successful
have the moral duty to help the least successful. Village power relations are replicated at the
international level.
This idea of equality is also present. A solution for some of the social problems noted before
would be to ensure everybody is treated equally during quality control, and every GPC gets their
inputs at the same time.
It is interesting to note that in 2007, the UD of Karangasso-Sambla launched two new
innovations for its producers in: a Health and a Savings Mutual (UD, 2007). The former is meant
to provide insurance for health problems in the farmers’ immediate families, while the latter aims
at addressing the difficulty cotton growers have in getting credit from other formal sources like
MECAP. Although the results of these initiatives are impossible to assess due to their recent
launch30, there is a sense that UD ignores the more pressing injustices, problems and solutions
presented by the farmers.
This is even more relevant considering that many farmers have stressed how they or their
acquaintances will be reducing their cropped areas this coming year and try to diversify their
earnings sources to be less dependent on cotton. Many are quitting cotton altogether, because it is
not profitable for them. One even drew the conclusion that the increasing poverty amongst cotton
farmers has a potential to disrupt the entire Burkinabè economy, and how it can be a breeding
ground for political strife and even warfare. In such a context, coupled with the array of problems


There already is controversy around these initiatives. The Health Mutual, for example, is criticized for its
disorganisation and the incompetence. There have been cases of health insurance certificates issued with
many risible errors in the actual names, genders and ages of the producers’ family members.

faced by the cotton trade, it is worth wondering what the potential for FT can be, and at what
For their part, SOFITEX representatives see solutions differently. The village CC says, literally,
that it is the producers themselves who fix the price they get, because they are in control of their
fields’ yield (Toé, personal communication, 26/04/07). As an illustration, there are wide varieties
in yields (they can go up to a 1:2 ratio) across producers that SOFITEX attributes to differences
in rigor around chemical treatment practices. The town’s most successful farmer also agrees with
that, and sees the entire process as an objective set of agrarian procedures to follow to maximize
returns. Another SOFITEX interviewee sees the improvement of quality as the ultimate solution
(Saré, personal communication, 01/05/07). He points out how competitive the world cotton
market is, and how Burkina Faso has to fight hard to maintain a reputation as a quality supplier
with its trading partners. A higher quality fetches a higher price on the market, it seems obvious
that by working hard on technical variables such as treatment, equipment appropriateness and
picking hygiene, farmers can become better off. In sum, they each define success in the cotton
cropping IGA as resulting solely from effort, and not from talent, luck or influence. What producers think of the FT model
The three focus groups conducted were built as thought experiments too see how participants
would react to a FT representative introducing FT to them for the first time.
The first topic of conversation was gender. When asked about the role of women in cotton
growing, producers identified seeding, picking, cooking and bringing water to the hired labour in
the fields. When asked whether women should be in GPCs, participants pointed out that there
were some limitations to how much women can do in the cotton growing IGA. For example,
certain types of work, like loading the SOFITEX trucks, are physically intensive and often occur
overnight, hence the husbands do not wish to face the risk of their wives going out alone at night
and possibly being fined 5000 FCFA for being late to a loading session. Also, most women do not
have access to transportation as easily as men, so it is hard to get around to the various activities
of the GPC. In addition, the phyto-sanitary treatment has side effects that men would not want to
see their wives suffer, especially if they are pregnant. All in all, most men disagreed with women
becoming involved in GPCs, and did not see the relevance of two household members making
decisions. In their view, women were sometimes to be consulted, but their ultimate role is to
support their husband, because women and men do not “see things the same way”. The rare
single woman who manages her own cotton field is always supported by a man (brother, cousin)
in Karangasso-Sambla. Men said it would bring conflict if women were involved in GPCs: men
would quarrel amongst themselves as to which woman works the most, which is pregnant most
often, etc. Since all the women in the same GPC would not be a single man’s wives, they said it
would be hard to stay in control of their behaviour (it seems like many people seem to see GPC
management as being similar to a family).
However, when asked what they would do if someone came in and offered a price of 306
FCFA/kg, but demanded equal participation by men and women, a minority of people changed
their minds and said women could be involved. They thought out solutions for the previous
problems, for example dealing with women members case-by-case in pregnancy, and pointed out
that women are better at money management than men. However, there was some agitation in the

groups and men asserting that women shouldn’t be responsible, or else what would happen to
children? What would the family eat? The resistance occurred from the entrenched cultural idea
that women’s prime IGAs are making dolo and selling peanuts and soumbala (local spice mix
from the nérée tree).
A second question asked to the focus groups had to do with the FT premium. If a representative
was to offer, again, 306 FCFA/kg, but asked that it was split up between the GPC and the
producers, what would they choose? From the onset, there was no resistance to the price sharing
system, although the GPC was more recognized as a social business than as an explicit
community development agent. The first estimates favoured the individual producers but after
some discussion, they came to a consensus that 5-10% (15-30 FCFA) of the sum should be given
to the GPC for projects who would benefit to the community.
The last question asked to the focus groups was regarding environmental stewardship. Although
most producers weren’t able to see a viable alternative to chemical inputs, after having
confronted the situation where the price of 306 FCFA would be given only upon a conversion to
natural inputs, producers unanimously embraced the idea. They had already made demands on
SOFITEX for helping with composting and using manure as a fertilizer. They agreed that the
natural inputs, although more labour-intensive, were worth it as they would also translate in
significant savings on production costs and hence reduce their indebtedness.

12 Discussion
12.1 What notion of the Role of FT do Producers and FT Workers Share?
There are variations in which FT workers and producers understand the role of FT; this section
seeks to bring them together, using the research findings to describe an ideal FT partnership for
the Karangasso-Sambla context.
The producers interviewed in this research do not subscribe to the view in which “markets
produce fairness”. For them, FT would lift them out of poverty and guarantee subsistence for
themselves and their families; this can only occur if they have a greater degree of control over
their local economy. This does not mean that they wish for autarky; many producers are quitting
cotton and going back to a more subsistence form of agriculture because the price of cotton is
low, not because they believe that the village should not be integrated in the global economy. In
principle, this integration is not a problem; the problem is the fluctuations that it entails, which in
their view should never compromise a basic standard of living in which their children can go to
school and each family member has access to adequate nutrition and healthcare. In summary,
while they do want to be integrated in the global economy for the monetary benefits it engages
(and other benefits named in Table 6), they believe this involvement should be on their own
terms, meaning that they should be able to negotiate prices of inputs and cotton as well as
delivery schedules and other aspects of the cotton IGA.
While they acknowledge the market imperfections resulting from the monopolistic power of
SOFITEX, they also advocate for subsidies from the national governments and aid transfers from
wealthier producers. These are reminiscent of socialist politics of the Sankara era. They wish the

price of cotton would reflect their production costs.. In terms of development theories, it can be
asserted that they do not subscribe to the neo-liberal approach, and do not feel like markets can
produce “fairness”. The process is understood in a Marxist sense, as a political issue in which
actors engage in a power struggle.
The construction of a FT model from the bottom-up at the basis of this research shows that
producers’ vision of development is a mix of CED and SCD, as the concern for sustainability and
diversification has been expressed many times. At the same time, there nevertheless remains an
important role for “outsiders”, in the form of technical and financial assistance, abolition of
subsidies, etc. This role is stressed many times and hence it is difficult to conclude that producers’
subscribe to the idea that FT promotes endogenous development. It seems that producers would
rather be involved as equal partners rather than becoming promoters of their own CED by
marketing and managing their own cotton growing activity. This might result from accumulated
frustrations with collaborative democratic structures which face so many financial constraints that
they become irrelevant and paralyzed. On the other hand, many producers have ideas of
alternative IGAs (banana plantations, cereal production, etc.), but they cannot seem to see how
they could self-finance these initiatives, given the current poverty profile of the community. In
sum, FT would be an alternative way of developing the community because it entails enhanced
participation by community members in cotton production and marketing decision-making as
well as social development projects, but it cannot be conceived as coming solely from within the
community, a result that might stem from the constant disempowerment producers face in their
relationship with SOFITEX and UNPCB.
Generally speaking, DAGRIS and Helvetas are pragmatic and more environmentally-focused,
whereas Fair Apparel and FibrEthik are social enterprises and hence go beyond how FT is usually
“sold” by FLO. “Fairness” is not all that matters, and other things such as the value-added on site,
dignity, equality through using markets, feasibility, quality, human relations, improvements to the
reputation of West African cotton, environmental stewardship and a focus on small groups of
producers all matter as well. There is definitely a pragmatic and realistic emphasis on serving
Northern consumers, which necessarily entails a focus on enhancing producers’ competitiveness
(notion #2 in Table 1), for example in terms of quality. However, FT is clearly seen as more than
that, as a social economy project that goes beyond addressing market imperfections. While efforts
are mobilised to internalise externalities such as pollution, the FT workers interviewed go beyond
the notions of supply and demand to set labour and environmental standards for themselves,
something that is largely ignored by markets. These markets are indeed seen as unfair and
monopolistic, because they “keep two billion people in poverty” (Jain, personal communication,
18/10/08). If the two FT organisations interviewed did stress the need for consumer education,
they failed to mention how they understood the role of the FT movement in reforming the global
trade. This might be a methodological weakness, but it is more likely to be that notion #3 in Table
1 is not the most important in their view, and that they understand their role at the social
enterprise rather than the policy level.
In summary, producers’ vision of FT comes closely in line with notion #4 from Table 1.
Consequently, it appears that producers in Burkina Faso could define a positive working
relationship with NGOs such as Fair Apparel and FibrEthik. One of the important findings
resulting from the above discussion is that any FT cotton project in Karangasso-Sambla should
really emphasize education and capacity-building, because there is a lot of underutilized

entrepreneurship in the community that would benefit from FT’s pre-financing and other kinds of
support to create a more diverse local economy. The researcher having limited knowledge of the
inner functioning of Helvetas, she cannot comment on whether they would be better or not. Given
the hostility of producers towards big, impersonal structure, she can nevertheless suggest that
small organisations are more likely to contribute to the realisation of producers’ visions of FT in
Karangasso-Sambla than large corporations would. The size of partners is an essential point here;
bigger is not better, as producers highly value direct human contact in their trading relationships.
Given the repeated stress put on values of solidarity, flexibility and empathy, it seems like social
entrepreneurs and cooperatives sharing these values would be most welcome. Transparency is
also very important to producers. While this can be understood as correcting for the lack of
perfect information in markets, it seems to be more based on basic positive reciprocity, honesty
and integrity producers expect from their trading partners. In all partnerships, however, a point of
pinnacle importance emerges: producers need to feel like they have agency in the process of
building the FT project, or else it will resemble the oppressive conventional trade too much. This
emphasis on participation suggests that the long-term focus of Helvetas, Fair Apparel and
FibrEthik is in accordance with the producers’ desires. The extent to which FT networks can
address the unfairness of the conventional cotton trade in Burkina Faso is the subject of the next

12.2 Is the current FT cotton model in Burkina Faso an alternative adapted to
local priorities?
The preceding exploration of which notion of FT workers and cotton producers subscribe to is a
good starting point for evaluating whether or not the current FT cotton practices are adapted to
the producers’ ideas and realities. In this section, it will be suggested that while Helvetas
embraces a sustainable CED approach to FT, it fails to allow for enough participation of
producers, hence replicating the breaches in partnership found in the conventional cotton trade. It
has to be noted that the coming section is primarily based on personal observations, and many
aspects – especially those touching particular cultural realities such as child labour and gender
equality – would, as noted, benefit greatly from more empirical research.

12.2.1 An alternative?
The FT cotton proposal is referred to by Northern actors as a positive, fair “alternative” to
conventional trade, but there are a number of examples showing its failure to be a real alternative
responsive to particular local needs. This can be explained mainly by the structure of FT cotton in
Burkina Faso, which carries plenty of the conventional trade problems through actively
integrating actors such as UNPCB (Bassett, personal communication, 06/12/07). While
SOFITEX is not involved directly in FT cotton, the cotton company involved, Faso Coton, has
emerged from the break up of the monopolistic SOFITEX into three regional monopolies. Hence,
it carries the past and living history of SOFITEX. The question as to whether UNPCB is
represented more positively by the FT-certified GPCB working with Helvetas remains an
empirical one.
In addition, a lot of typical FT solutions are already incorporated within the Burkinabè industry,
which echoes with social economy practices. In reality, the fact that FT ideologies are defined in
such “universal” terms and are based on a model that originates in the Latin-American coffee

industry (Raynolds, personal communication, 12/12/07) results in there not being a real, profound
dichotomy between FT and conventional cotton in Burkina Faso. FT is not a whole “new”
concept with unique solutions. Now whether the existing structure must, should, or even could
change given the current cotton market structures is a question on which people disagree. The
international cotton market is an oligopoly and it would certainly be challenging for smaller
actors like Helvetas to create a completely independent, parallel commodity chain. The idea of
them working independently, without national partners from the conventional trade, is also highly
questionable and could contribute to the failure of these efforts. In any case, the existing structure
clearly is not “fair” in the view of the producers.
Of course the notion of “need” is not objective either. The long-term cross-cultural studies of
economist Manfred Max-Neef suggest that fundamental needs fall into nine universal categories:
subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, idleness, creation, identity, and
freedom (EcoTrust, 2007)31. Whether FT should try to address them all remains open to
discussion. What is certain is that some elements uncovered during this research compromise the
theoretical “fairness” of FT cotton in Burkina Faso. The most salient one is that there are existing
problems in the conventional cotton trade that are taken forwards in the FT networks. These
relate to the partners (UNCPB, Faso Coton) and the other social economy initiatives, such as the
organisation into GPCs, the payment of the ristourne, etc.


Organisational Issues

The first problem relates to the GPCs, which are rendered dysfunctional because of the debt issue
and free riding. As a matter of fact, the higher FT price and the opportunity for pre-financing
should reduce the debt issue in FT-certified groups, although in the first years of conversion to
organic production, yields go down significantly so that the FT price can only allow farmers to
break-even and survive, at first (Faure, personal communication, 01/11/07). The GPC – who are
similar in principle to cooperatives – were created as an instrument for SOFITEX to recover their
credit, not upon the basis of nice principles about “cooperation” and “democracy”. Cooperatives
are not the Shangri-La of business organisations and they are never problematized by FLO.
Bassett points at some issues with cooperatives, how they can disturb the existing gerontocracy
by empowering young literate men at the expense of elders, who are traditionally the most
respected age groups in the community (Bassett, Personal communication, 05/12/07). In addition,
cooperatives do not always result in the empowerment and participation that are so central to the
producers’ definition of FT, as mentioned by Lyon (2003):
“Success in FT necessitates managing the inherent tension between cooperatives' democratic
commitments and the organisational requirements of world market participation. […] Cooperatives have hired technical staff to meet organic certification and market requirements
and they all struggle to combat the tendency for skills and power to become centralized.”

Cooperatives can definitely be a useful form of producer organisation by giving them more
bargaining power and they can be a more representative form of market structure. However,
there are challenges, which include “the capacity to raise capital, finding and keeping competent
managers, maintaining effective accountability to members, dealing with the risk of
politicisation, and competing with private traders who will generally be less constrained by
bureaucratic procedures and decision making” (Abbott, 1993, c.f. Oxford Policy Management,

Democratic organisations can be quite different around the world (Raynolds, personal
communication, 12/12/07), and it is important for FT to recognise that the existing GPC structure
has its own problems and can be improved. It is not clear how Helvetas is addressing these
governance issues, and that jeopardizes the “fairness” of FT cotton, because many producers
pointed at the GPC as a potential threat to harmony in the village.

12.2.3 Money Issues
Another thing to be questioned is the FT Premium. Is it better than the ristourne in the
conventional trade? How? Of course, the FT premium is about ten times higher than the typical
ristourne, and that does make a difference in the community’s capacity to engage in projects
relevant to them. However, there is no empirical data in Burkina Faso on the use of the premium,
which has the potential to be counter-productive as well. In fact, as Bassett notes, social
premiums have the potential to be eroded by free-riding, and can be used (as they currently are)
mostly to settle the debts of less successful farmers, not for endogenous development projects.
This has created tensions in Côte d’Ivoire, where successful farmers got frustrated and formed
their own cooperatives, leading to increased segmentation and segregation in villages (Bassett,
personal communication, 07/12/07). This indicates that the FT premium may not always serve its
development purpose; it may contribute to reducing inequalities in other ways, but also has
indirect side effects. Once again, the higher FT price has the potential to reduce the debt
problems after a few years, but no research has addressed that yet.
Debt was mentioned as one of the primary non-partnership-related “unfair” features of
conventional trade. FT networks offer pre-financing to producers. What is the plus value of that
pre-financing, in a context where existing alternative means of financing already exist and are put
in place by local actors for the community? For example, as mentioned before, the UD in
Karangasso-Sambla is setting up a financing instance, and MECAP also exists for other credit
needs. FT pre-financing automatically creates a liability between the producer and the FT
distributor. Would FT interfere with these mechanisms if it were to be implemented in
Karangasso-Sambla? Or would it significantly reduce the debt burden? This is an important
empirical question, because cotton debt is at the origin of many social problems in the village.
When contrasted with the potential solution of making credit generally more available, producers
express their reserve towards the easy fix solution of facilitating microcredit in the region. That is
mostly because, according to one research participant, “we give a microcredit to someone so that
they can do an IGA, but if a problem comes than the person uses this money to solve it, then
she’ll be unable to pay back and may prefer to leave. If they can raise it [the cotton price], they
should do it or else poverty will continue in Burkina Faso. Here in Burkina Faso, the cotton
farmers are the poorest and when that’s the case, it has effects on all the layers of population.” An
emphasis on pre-financing and microcredit, as opposed to the fair trade price, would thus not be
justified in the view of producers.
This discussion of premium and pre-financing inevitably leads to the discussion of the FT price,
which is the variable for which research participants really want to see a positive change. A
sample of 34 producers were asked what would be a “fair price” for cotton, and the average given
was 261 FCFA/kg, which is lower, in fact, than the FT/organic price offered by Helvetas (272
FCFA/kg, 306 when counting the premium). It is evident that producers are not making
unrealistic price demands; however, there are a few problems with FT as it is. FLO does not have
consistent practices for fixing the FT price, although it is usually the result of a commodity

expert’s research. What happened in Burkina is a whole different story: the FT price was in fact
set using the current SOFITEX estimates and adding a margin to it (Bassett, Personal
communication, 05/12/07). It is hence calculated using market mechanisms and an arbitrary
surplus. In this particular case then, the FT price has not been calculated in terms of production
costs and externalities. Whether the FT price actually encompasses all the costs remain an
empirical question. However, the price fixing mechanism merely replicates the SOFITEX
mechanisms denounced consistently by producers, since they were not involved in the process in
any way. In this case, “if it is true that the convention setting process involves consultation and
negotiation mainly among an elite of technical experts and politically powerful ideological
brokers, the notion that Fair Trade works in a direct and simple way to empower workers and
producers needs to be taken with a pinch of salt” (Kruger & Du Toit, 2007: 217).
Also, FLO does not have set indexing practices. There have been numerous cases of coffee
producers complaining that the FT price was too low (Mutersbaugh, personal communication,
06/12/07), (Lyon, personal communication, 07/12/07), mostly because it had not been changed in
10 years despite steady inflation. The value of FT declines for the producer as inflation increases,
and the FT price reaches a point where it is definitely not considered “fair” anymore.

12.2.4 Quality Control and Environment
Another issue about theoretical “fairness” is linked to the debate about the power nexus within
FT, which is often said to reside with consumers or with FLO. In practice, FT cotton FT workers
such as Fair Apparel and FibrEthik are very concerned with quality, because that is what the
consumer wants. There are problems with this, because producers consistently pointed out that
quality was a huge point of disagreement between SOFITEX and them, and it contributed to
deeply souring the partnership. Quality is not seen in the same way by different stakeholders: as
an illustration, while consumers often see it as a positive thing that cotton is hand-picked,
producers themselves see it as an annoying disadvantage compared to using machines. In fact,
“Quality requirements placed on exporters by distributors farther along the chain have become an
unofficial gatekeeper, permitting only the "best" of the small-scale producers to access the lucrative,
specialty market. From the perspective of these producers, Fair Trade hardly resembles a strategy that
confronts the "injustices inherent in the world economy and tries to transform North/South trade"
(Raynolds 2000:301, c.f. Shreck, 2002), much less one that "alleviate[s] poverty in the South" (EFTA
2001b:5, c.f. Shreck, 2002) or helps producers "get back on their feet and trade their way out of poverty
with a renewed sense of pride" (FLO 2000a, c.f. Shreck, 2002)”

In this context, an emphasis on quality by FT partners could not be possibly seen as fair unless it
is introduced differently, more objectively and in a less stressful way in which producers can be
brought to participate in what FT is. Whether this happens currently between Helvetas and
GPCBs is an empirical question.
This research shows that one of the FT features which would be most welcome by producers in
Karangasso-Sambla is related to natural inputs and environmental stewardship, although this
seems to be a strategy for cost-cutting and reducing health hazards rather than for environmental
“justice”. A deeper investigation of this question is necessary for FT stakeholders to understand
producers’ understanding of the role of environmental stewardship in trade justice. This can be a
manifestation of a sense of “fairness” that evolves through time. Murray (personal
communication, 12/12/07) in fact points that the negative health effects of chemical inputs slowly

become part of the daily life of producers, to the extent that it can become difficult for them to
identify it as “unfair”; for them, it is unpleasant, but normal. This is something to take into
account when making claims about environmental “fairness”.

Fig. 7: Cotton Chemicals

12.2.5 Child Labour and Gender Equality
One thing FLO has been intensely criticized for is its former policy on child labour, which used
to be more inflexible. At the moment, lesser use of child labour is part of the progress
requirements for certification. As this research shows, cotton definitely has an impact on child’s
education. There are even instances of villagers gathering
children going to Koranic School in Bobo-Dioulasso to put
them to work in cotton fields. However, child labour,
according to this research’s participants, is a form of
positive reciprocity within the family unit: the parents need
help, but provide for their children in exchange. Then when
the child grows up, his/her parents can take care of their
grandchildren when they age. Child labour is a very
controversial issue in the North, and there are some cases in
which it is deemed as “unfair” because it is not fully
understood by FT proponents who are not familiar with the
local context to which their ideas are applied. For the
Burkinabè sample studied, requiring children to not work in
the fields would clearly be seen as “unfair”. The question
whether this progress requirement is realistic remains
empirical, and it is addressed in a forthcoming study on
child labour in the FT/organic trade in Burkina Faso
(Renauld, personal communication, 04/12/07).
Fig. 8 : Cotton child labourer
Another issue that matters to FT consumers is that of gender equality, which is developing into a
new niche, especially in the coffee market 32. As it was discussed, although superficially, in the
focus group and interviews, the empowerment of women is not associated with the producers’
definition of what “fairer” trade should be like. It is not mentioned in the solutions section. Most
do not see the current gender inequality as “unfair”, and reacted strongly to the idea that women
should become involved in GPCs in order to get the FT price. This is likely to be one of the most

Planet Bean, a cooperative from Guelph, Ontario, is now marketing women-cooperative FT/organic coffee.

important theoretical discrepancies between Northern stakeholders and Southern producers, and it
ought to be researched more. Once again, applying seemingly “universal” but Western-centric
ideals of “fairness” may not be interpreted as “fair” on the ground. More research on how
Helvetas reached a 50% rate of women participation in their GPCBs and the resistance it
encountered by doing so would be most interesting.

12.2.6 Role of the Government
One last clash between Northern proponents of FT and the study sample has to do with the role of
the government in the cotton trade. As mentioned before, Northern actors emerge mostly from a
more interventionist background, but they heavily condemn the American subsidies to their
cotton industry as a major source of “unfairness”. However, producers in Burkina Faso are not
against these subsidies and see them rather as a way for the US government to help and support
their cotton growers, which is desirable in their view. People consistently said they would like
their own government to give them more subsidies. Whether FT certified producers would also
want subsidies remains an empirical question. This shows that producers do not agree with what
Northern actors identify as the major cause of “unfairness” in the cotton trade.
In summary, the FT model has to be adapted to come up with practical solutions to these
problems in order to truly be “fair”. A universal or easy fix will not do, and it appears that FT is
not participatory, transparent and transformative enough to be an adapted and “fairer” alternative
to the current situation.

13 Conclusion
13.1 Summary of Findings
In this thesis, three points have been argued:
1. For Northern stakeholders, FT is a contested notion, and its impact can be seen
positively and negatively. Most academics identify challenges in the way FT evolved
from its inceptions, and how the values of the movements are shifting away from
solidarity and into more commercial concerns. Most critiques of FT are directed
towards how principles of FT translate in practice, in specific case studies, although
some stakeholders question the rationale for FT.
2. The most important cause of “unfairness” according to the producers is the state of the
current relationships with their trade partner and union, which are dominated by
unilateralism. They do not fulfill Tallontire’s (2000) five criteria for a healthy
partnership, because SOFITEX, UNPCB and the producers interviewed do not share a
common understanding of the problems and issues, are not mutually committed in the
same respect, have conflicting interests and lack mutual trust. As a result, SOFITEX
does not offer producers a “fair price”. This pattern has the potential to be replicated
within FT networks.
3. The solutions proposed by producers and Northern actors are somewhat similar, but
many are context-specific and cannot be addressed properly using a universal, criteriabased definition of “fairness”. FT for them should stem from their own criteria, not
from ones imposed externally. The “FT” constructed in the thought experiment should
be an agent of holistic CED in the producers’ view (allowing crop diversification,

social and infrastructure development), but it should still allow for a role for outsiders
in term of purchasing, (e.g. buyers paying a higher price), technical assistance (e.g.
help in switching to less chemical inputs) and political intervention to facilitate a
broader context of trade justice. The current FT model, although it responds to most of
the producers’ concerns, is inadequate because it does not allow for enough
participation and genuine partnerships.
Producers argue things are unfair because they are determined outside of their control. Even
though they point out their poverty to appeal for external support, this is warranted by the feeling
of a breach of a social contract between them and SOFITEX, them and the government and them
and the American producers, respectively. The unfairness arises locally through interactions with
such actors as SOFITEX and the UNPCB, and it is mostly seen as resulting from partnership
issues and lack of positive reciprocity. The CC in Karangasso-Sambla insists that since they have
good intentions there is no unfairness, just human mistakes and misunderstandings. There is no
recognition on the part of SOFITEX as to how the process of the cotton trade itself can be unfair.
American subsidies are not pointed out very frequently; the producers are calling, rather, for an
exchange of resources, technology and knowledge between cotton producers from their village
and those in the United States or China.
While the solutions proposed encompass these three actors, the members of this sample of noncertified cotton producers in Karangasso-Sambla never mentioned the role of cotton consumers in
their discourse. This notion seems to be abstract (Lyon, 2003). Furthermore, their solutions are
not market-based; they involve direct, targeted interventions to lift them out of their current state
of deprivation. As such, it is possible to conclude that cotton producers in Burkina Faso feel they
deserve a higher price for their labour, and that their partners – SOFITEX and UNPCB – are not
adequately “providing” for them. In their view, they are being unjustly treated. The overriding
theme in this research is that it is very difficult for the cotton IGA to be profitable given the
current price; producers desire a higher price like any business person, but for them being lifted
out of poverty is a greater concern than maximizing financial returns, even if the former stems
from the latter. While some claims are backed up by charity arguments and others by fairness
arguments, the charity vs. justice debate is only relevant within the context of deprivation due to
circumstances mostly out of the producers’ control.
FT cotton in Burkina Faso has to be conceptualized within an endogenous CED framework, reemphasizing participation and equal partnerships fulfilling Tallontire’s criteria. Observers ought
not get caught in the “trade” versus “development” debate; for producers interviewed in this
research, it is clear that the former relates to the latter and that reforms to “make trade fair” ought
to have significant impacts on CED. As Quigley & Opal (2006) note, “Workers do not need 'aid'
or social premiums, but they do need fair wages". Although these are not all justified by
“fairness”, they are a necessary component for FT networks to get approved funding from
bilateral donors. Moreover, for non-certified producers in Burkina Faso, FT is mostly justified by
the higher price and to correct the consequences resulting from skewed partnerships with
SOFITEX and the Union.
There are lots of local unfair impacts of cotton named by producers which other stakeholders fail
to address directly, maybe because it does not fit with their agenda. When asked to explain fair
trade, Northern actors invariably use international trade phenomena and general macro-terms

such as subsidies, intermediaries, etc., instead of referring to the particular situations grasped by
their partners. Such problems, in the case of cotton producers in Karangasso-Sambla, could be
social problems - such as family quarrels, alcoholism, suicide, disappearances, individualism - or
process-related problems such as quality control, inhuman efforts, environmental risk and the
uncertainty of producing cash crops33.
By staying so large and broad, FT still does not defetishise the commodity chain as it claims it
does. While the typical piece of FT promotional literature tries to sell the idea that producers and
consumers engage in a genuine and direct trading partnership, this material is often misleading.
In fact, there is a disconnect between producers and Northern actors. This reality is emerging for
the case of FT cotton and is emulating cases from the coffee commodity chain, in which the
disconnect has been manifested in condescension (Mutersbaugh, personal communication,
07/12/07) and essentialisation (Lyon, personal communication, 07/12/07). This seems to be part
of a trend from the two opposite arms of the FT referential, a trend from solidarity to commercial
Solutions to the current situation of the conventional cotton trade in rural Burkina Faso encounter
a number of contradictions. On the one hand, one sees the need for more rules and formalisation,
because problems come from a lack of checks and balances. On the other hand, such a system –
e.g. FLO – quickly gets out of control and becomes too big to be personable, responsive and
accountable. Nevertheless, there is considerable overlap between the vision of producers and that
of FT proponents in the North.
However, the causes and solutions proposed by different actors lie at different levels. FLO
doesn’t allow consumers to defetishise FT because it does not demystify micro issues that
structure the reality of “unfairness” for producers. This may be an issue of position, as FLO and
NGOs are pursuing their self-interest and a much broader FT ideology. They also narrow
themselves to the “fair price” criteria.
To finish with, FT is a nexus for the ongoing debate on particularism versus universalism of
norms. The need for universal standards to maintain the credibility of the label has to be balanced
with the fact that FT operates in many regions with a very large range of cultural practices and
beliefs, which are all dynamic and evolving. For consumers whose knowledge of FT is grounded
in a very specific purchasing action and imagery, it is easy to forget about the beneficiaries.
Although the viability of this consumer-driven movement is dependent on sales and market
shares, FT has to embody and represent the needs of producers, not consumers, to fulfill its



This research addresses a significant practical problem for all those consumers, workers and
citizens in the North and in the South interested in the FT movement and in planning and M&E
of intangible aspects of international development projects. It is also of specific interest to
students and practitioners of economics who want to explore its “normative” possibilities, to
scholars of anthropology, philosophy, political science and equity studies wanting to integrate
social economics into their discipline, and to anyone wanting to better understand the metaphor

Please see Tables 7 & 8 for complete details on what aspects of cotton growing are considered unfair by the

of culture and position as an iceberg whose underwater mass contributes to shaping virtually
every aspect of human behaviour.
Evidence shows the current model of cotton cropping to be unprofitable, stress causing and
polluting. It seems like it is a catch-22 that is encouraged by the Burkinabè government to earn
foreign exchange to finance the country’s foreign debt; it does not seem to be able to sustain
livelihoods. Still, nobody has ever asked cotton growers about their problems and their roots; as a
matter of fact, people make a series of statements on how the US government is to blame for the
drop in cotton prices, but we must admit that the information differential is not the sole reason
why the producers identify other things as the main cause for that. Cotton is in the media
spotlights nowadays, but if many people know about the conditions of textile factory workers
through valuable campaigning efforts, not many people in the West can even explain where their
T-Shirts originally come from and under what circumstances they have been produced.
Recent experience in M&E show that FT organisations and producers groups ought to join forces
in fixing common objectives, but these are usually very broad and uncontroversial (i.e., enhance
the standards of living for a given group, etc.). This understates particular cultural conceptions of
justice, fate and solidarity in economics. If we do not understand these views, then we risk
developing a FT model that answers to the Northern, rich, left-leaning consumer’s needs rather
than to the priorities of the producers in the South. We talk about the impact of social enterprises
like FT cooperatives, but impact is measured through the realisation of objectives. And objectives
are subjective and informed by culture.
This research is significant because it gives non-certified cotton producers from Burkina Faso a
voice that they should have had from the onset of discussions about setting FT standards. The
close examination of their vision of “fairness” can act as a guide for practitioners and policymakers to evaluate their model and see how it can be improved.
Furthermore, the FT movement is changing, and as people believing in an alternative to
conventional trade, it is necessary to ensure the movement is changing in the direction that the
producers (the beneficiaries) want it to. This is the only way its raison d’être can be preserved.
As FT consumers, we also need to know what organisations are encouraging when they promote
FT; “justice”, “charity” or “development”. To make an informed choice, we first need to know
what the rationale behind our personal act is, and then compare it with the values and operating
principles of the cooperative, NGO, social enterprise or corporation we are buying from. This is
crucial because marketing strategies and tools (promotional materials, web sites, etc.) do not do
much to eliminate consumer confusion and tend to blur the distinctions between different kinds
of FT products. To eliminate that blurriness, one needs to hear what the stakeholders think, and be
sufficiently informed to analyse it. This is what this thesis offers.
Consumers buy FT because it is a symbol (Lyon, 2007:458), but they do not know what the
producers want, and what they want often ends up being quite different from what the consumers
may think. The force of the FT movement is how it creates and intensifies on the consumerproducer relationship (Raynolds, 2002, cf. Lyon, 2003:2), but the movement does not facilitate
dialogue across actors as to what is fair and what is not. Such cases arise frequently in the FT

movement; for example, La Siembra, a Canadian cooperative selling FT products, pointed out
having different views than their coffee producers regarding corporate involvement in FT. While
they were concerned about Wal-Mart displacing local businesses in Canada, the producers were
enthusiastic about being able to sell such large volumes (Forum Social Québécois, personal
communication, 25/08/07). Ideological principles need to be concealed with practical realities
and they are through negotiations, and these negotiations can only be facilitated if FT
practitioners know what their trading partners believe to be “fair”.
As a matter of fact, the term “fair trade” is being used to fulfill a variety of political purposes. It
can embody protectionist practices and hence be “fair” to those who lose their jobs in sectors in
which the country does not have a comparative advantage. At the other pole, it can be used as a
synonym for free trade! Moore (2004) is right to state that a fully worked-through theory of
fairness is needed in the case of FT; this thesis is a starting point in this process.
Given the variety of ways in which FT is understood, important questions arise about power,
oppression and agency in the FT processes (Kruger & du Toit, 2007). If these are not uncovered,
then it is impossible to say whose vision, of all the FT stakeholders, dominates, and where these
visions do and do not overlap. This research shows the visions do overlap but there is still a huge
disconnect that is manifested in the way FT cotton is structured in Burkina Faso.

13.3 Recommendations
These research findings are not only significant for FLO policy, but also for broader government
policy. All FT is not the same; there are cooperatives and mutuals, non-profit organisations, social
enterprises and big business involved. These actors can be positioned along the FT referential,
and they disagree on business practices, price setting, etc. As Fridell (personal communication,
17/12/07) points out, there is indeed a huge difference between the act of consuming FT coffee
from Planet Bean, a cooperative dedicated to the sale of FT products and to FT education, and
from Starbucks, a large multi-national corporation known as a union-buster. If these nuances are
not publically acknowledged by FLO, the certifying body, there is a risk of confusing the
consumer and of diluting the FT principles. The apparel and fashion industry being so harshly
competitive and hosting some of the worst labour abuses, there are reasons to think buying FTcertified clothing from a large retailer or a small business is not the same consumption act, and
consumers have to be educated about that.
Along with the differentiation of retailers, it is important for consumers to be educated about
different labels that are in the process of being developed in Europe for FT-organic cotton (Faure,
personal communication, 01/11/07). With the term “Fair Trade” being less protected legally than
“organic”, consumers have to be aware of the manipulation of the term, but also the burden FT
certification can place upon producers and retailers due to its high cost and ongoing paperwork
requirements. There is a division in the movement in the North between FT and non-FT certified
retailers who both claim to advance “trade justice”; these parties essentially work for the same
objectives, with a diverse degree of bureaucratisation which comes with benefits and
inconveniences. They should be brought together as a group to make collective demands to
advance the political case for trade justice. For their part, consumers should be aware of these

tensions and discriminating enough to buy fairly traded clothing from retailers they trust for their
practices, not solely because they exhibit the FT logo.
This research confirms that trade relationship building in Burkina takes a lot of time and people
are more likely to appreciate a constant present and face-to-face report to make it more effective.
That is an initiative that Iciéla, a Québec cooperative starting to engage in FT cotton and shea
importing from Mali, seems to exemplify quite well according to its founder’s attitude towards
doing business (Dufresne, personal communication, 23/08/07): by visiting trade partners several
times to build trust before starting talking of importing.
To avoid mistakes from FT coffee in Mexico and to avoid repeating clashes from the
conventional trade, clear explanations of complaint mechanisms and decision-making instances
ought to be made.
FT NGOs with strong educational mandates should review their advocacy pieces to allow for a
more nuanced appreciation of US protectionism. For example, it is known that the US
government delinked cotton subsidies from production, which means cotton producers in the US
get fewer incentives to overproduce and hence lower world prices (Rivoli, personal
communication, 05/12/07). This kind of subsidy does not disturb trade per se. It would be
important for NGOs to distinguish between different categories of subsidies (Amber/Yellow/Blue
Box) within the WTO and explain their respective impact.
Education at the farmers’ level is needed to remove some ambiguity regarding the environmental
impacts of chemical fertilisers. Similarly, “more attention could be given to educating
participants about FT, so that they might eventually fill their role as equal partners, rather than as
beneficiaries of an aid package and suppliers of a specialty market” (Shreck, 2002: 20).
Similarly, FLO should be publically more transparency on what FT can and cannot do. The FLO
website is not user-friendly. Although it is understandable that they try to minimise administrative
expenses, the current situation is not conducive to a proper understanding of what FT is. If FT
really ought to defetishise markets by creating more human trading relationships and providing
information about how and where goods are produced, it should also allow its weaknesses and
flaws to be seen. It would be interesting for the website to link to impact and case studies, and to
discussion forums uniting practitioners, academics and the general public. If FLO’s definition of
FT remains unclear, then it could be seen as pushing for one single authoritative vision of
fairness, which clearly is not fair.
FLO should be more consistent and adopt a clearer policy of what a “fair price” is. Is it a price
that covers production costs plus a margin of 10%, 20%? Should it be allowed to fluctuate
depending on market prices, to ensure the profitability of FT retailers, as FLO almost allowed
(Mutersbaugh, personal communication, 06/12/07)? What costs – capital and land values, wage
levels, costs of certification, environmental standards, transportation, administration, overhead,
marketing – should be taken into account? While this is a contentious topic going back to the
times of Thomas Aquinas, there ought to be a more consistent and quantitative procedure
allowing for inflation and based on purchasing-power parity currency, so that countries where the
costs of living is higher are given a higher FT price. There is no reason why the price for FT

rooibos in South Africa should be set using questionnaires and wide consultations, while the FT
cotton price in Burkina Faso is set according to the market price.
More work can also be done with consumers of FT products. Buyers of FT products are often
middle- or upper-class people living in the OECD. There are intrinsic inequalities between them
and the people they are trying to help. While encouraging ethical consumption is an important
step forwards to redress some of these inequalities, consumers ought not to be mobilised solely
along the lines of their “consuming” identities. The tremendous political resources they have
access to should be tapped and NGOs should appeal to FT consumers as citizens, and encourage
them to think about fairness in their political choices (Fridell, personal communication,
This research indicates the negative impacts of buying inputs on credit in the conventional cotton
trade. These difficulties could be replicated in FT, due to its pre-financing component. More
research on microfinance and FT would thus be desirable. It should also encompass investigation
about how well FT organizations fare in terms of integrating savings education in their capacity
building programming.
While it is difficult for the author to comment on the internal FLO system, it seems reasonable to
recommend an evaluation of current information systems. Current communication technologies
as well as language and cultural proximity results in FLO being more closely linked to FT
retailers than to FT producers worldwide. This is unfortunate given FT’s stated mandate, which is
to help small producers. A more intricate information system should bring stakeholders together,
and should also internalize the social and environmental benefits of FT. This would be facilitated
by the recent development of social accounting and auditing systems targeted to NGOs,
cooperatives and umbrella organisations (Mook, Richmond & Quarter, 2007).
Along the same line of thought, a rigorous M&E scheme ought to be developed for FT, so that all
stakeholders can know what it is to be “fair”, in practice. This should be done participatively,
mapping the producers’ objectives and tracing a plan to achieve these, as the Kuapa Kokoo cocoa
cooperative did in Ghana (Ronchi, 2002). Different NGOs have different reporting traditions,
formats and requirements, so it is essential for FT projects to develop a consistent and defendable
More transformative changes are needed in the way FT cotton is handled in Burkina Faso. In that
respect, cotton is very different from coffee; the cotton industry is dominated by an oligopoly of
5-6 traders (Bassett, personal communication, 05/12,07), some of them such as DAGRIS being
anchored in the colonial era and with a very negative reputation. There are certainly limits to the
ability to curtail that monopsony power in practice, and it is not necessarily easy, for political
reasons, for a Swiss NGO like Helvetas to try to go around existing structures like SOFITEX and
DAGRIS. However, if the FT movement points out issues arising from the role corporations in
the coffee realm (Fridell, 2007) or plantations in the banana realm (Reed, personal
communication, 31/10/07), it ought to pay attention to the market structure particular to cotton or
else its “fairness” would be at best questionable. One way of doing this is to encourage
relocalisation efforts like those already put forwards by Helvetas to encourage the production of
FT-organic thread in-country to supply Burkinabè women who will then export knitted goods or
work with local or expatriate designers on site (Helvetas, 2007).

In essence, the author believes it is crucial to problematise the current FT model and evaluate its
“fairness” according to what matters most to the producers. It is her opinion that it is a good thing
that FT is being increasingly criticised. In her view it is important to join Bassett and the
discussion he launches about the “alternative” characteristics of FT to see how we can make FT


Suggestions for Further Research

Economic literature lacks a comprehensive paper addressing Fair Trade and creating a model to
explain its deliverables and shortcomings. This paper attempted to relate the Fair Trade idea and
debate to several economic models or principles34 to show that the discipline’s terminology can
be used to describe it. This theoretical model building exercise should be done more thoroughly
because it would help to determine how “fair” FT is.
In the same order of ideas, Fair Trade has to be distinguished from other development strategies.
Quantitative data should be collected and used to test the Fair Trade model to identify its unique
value and impact on economic growth and development. Only then can interest in Fair Trade be
fostered at the policy-making level.
The field of organisational behaviour would have a lot to gain from creating a standardised
survey tool (in the style of the Swartz Value Survey, the World Value Survey or the GLOBE
study) to analyze FT networks and other “ethical” businesses.
Data should be collected and submitted to statistical analysis to identify the homogeneity of the
values and opinions held by Fair Trade practitioners and Fair Trade products customers. If
Charlier et al.’s (2006) Fair Trade Solidarity Referential is useful to understand the ideological
shift taking place in the movement, it is not based on empirical evidence. Similarly, Lemay’s
(2006) discussion of debate and disagreements in the Fair Trade movement is not supported by
baseline data subjected to standard deviation calculations and significance tests. Further research
should address this discrepancy and gather data from all Fair Trade stakeholders using a
standardised test.
FT begins historically in one commodity, coffee, in one region, Latin-America. We cannot make
assumptions about the kinds of organisational patterns in other commodities in other regions
(Raynolds, personal communications, 12/12/07), or merely transfer them. Production and market
realities differ, and the bulk of FT research has indeed focused on coffee, the largest FT-certified
commodity. One example would be land rights. While vulnerability for many coffee growers in
Latin-America arises from landlessness, this issue is not relevant in Burkina Faso, where
producers own their land. More recently certified commodities, including fast-growing ones such
as cotton, need to be studied in their intricacies.
There are reasons to think the concept of fairness evolves with time. In fact, some perceptions of
fairness can be due to a lack of awareness of alternative options. For example, producers in

Heckscher-Ohlin model, externalities, human capital, producer surplus, vertical integration, marginal
benefit, etc.

Burkina can consider it as fair and normal that they are sick once a year from using highly toxic
chemicals... until they know it could be otherwise if they used other inputs or adequate
protection. Ignorance can breed ideas that the status quo is fair; when this status quo is shaken by
the educational arm of the FT networks, producers are less likely to accept pesticide poisoning
(Murray, personal communication, 12/12/07). For that reason, it would be interesting to
undertake a similar study with FT-certified producers.
In addition, the pervasive “pro-producer” bias has resulted in actors positioned higher up in the
supply chain – such as FT workers and roasters in the case of coffee – getting less attention from
FT researchers (Lyon, 2003). This is especially relevant for a commodity such as FT cotton which
has such a complex transformation chain, and which is so intimately linked to other social and
labour movements such as the No Sweat Campaigns. If good work has been done to assess the
feasibility of FT garments (Opal, 2006), more research needs to be done on how to adapt ISO
standards to guarantee real FT clothing and insure the credibility of the FT label. This has to
include a thorough economic analysis of each transformation steps – cotton picking, ginning, cutand-trim, sewing – to assess the value added in each transaction. This will help determine how
the FT price can be “fair”.
It would be very valuable for an insider to write an ethnography of FLO, to dig into founding
texts and clearly identify what their vision is, how it evolved, and to what political forces it is
subject in reality. This research with the power nexus of FT is highly desirable.
On the same line of thought, it would be very interesting to gather and compare different clothing
initiatives that claim to be “fairly” traded or “ethical”, such as the RED products and the Perfect
T-Shirt in the UK. What is the real value of having the FT logo in the eyes of producers?
Retailers? Consumers? What is the best way to reform the FT labelling system so that the
negative aspects are minimised and the positive maximised?
The current study worked with stakeholders at the bottom and at the middle of the supply chain,
and with those who study these FT networks. More studies with those at the other end of the
supply chain, the consumers, are needed. These are often harder to do (Lyon, personal
communication, 07/12/07), but since, for better or for worse, FT remains a demand-driven trade
system, the needs and thoughts of the current and potential consumers (and detractors!) of
“ethical” products ought to be compiled and analysed. FibrEthik already engaged in extensive
feasibility studies for its members to see whether there is a market for different FT items of
different styles and audience, for example FT designer clothing, FT baby clothes, FT underwear
and socks, FT bathroom items, etc (Fauré, personal communication, 01/11/07). Such research on
the consumer end would help complement these feasibility studies and create marketing plans for
In the same marketing efforts, studies of FT promotional items (for NGOs) would be helpful for
knowing exactly how FT products are sold. Do they appeal to the humanitarian instinct? How do
they present “fairness”? How variable are they, and upon which control variables? How
essentializing or patronizing are they? How can they help defetishise the FT networks? Most
importantly: how can they be improved to help fulfill some of the recommendations written

More research should also be done on FT and human rights. This exploratory research sought to
identify what producers thought their rights were and how and when they felt their rights to be
jeopardised by other actors. A small part of the field work was devoted to that question, and it
was meant mostly to assess the health and reciprocity of partnerships in the conventional trade. It
would be interesting to compare the terminology and founding texts of the FT and the human
rights movements to see how they overlap and how the former uses the latter as a framework to
frame itself as justice.

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Personal Communications
West-African cotton specialist, Geography
Department, University of Illinois at ChampaignUrbana
Development Economist, University of Toronto

Bassett Tom
Berry Albert
Founder, Réseau de Citoyenneté Iciéla
Fauré Marc-Henri Founder, FibrEthik
Pour un commerce solidaire avec les petits
Social Producteurs: les enjeux du commerce équitable
(round table at the Québec Social Forum)
Fridell Gavin
Jain Monty

Author, Fair Trade Coffee: Prospects and Pitfalls
Founder, Fair Apparel
Fair Trade Scholar, Economic Anthropologist,
University of Kentucky
Co-Director, Centre for Fair and Alternative
Trade, Colorado State University
Fair Trade Scholar, Geographer, University of


Development Economist, Uniterra, Ouagadougou
Co-Director, Centre for Fair and Alternative
Raynolds Laura
Trade, Colorado State University
Fair Trade Scholar, Professor: Business & Society
Reed Darryl
Program, York University
Renauld Thierry
Director, Helvetas Burkina Faso
Author, The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global
Rivoli Pietra
Saré Jean Désiré
Quality control agent, SOFITEX, Bobo-Dioulasso
Shirley, Clyde
Founder, Global Aware
Kwasi Professor: African Studies, New College,
University of Toronto
Tumkur Suresh
Account Manager, Equity - OXFAM Fair Trade


Lyon Sarah
Murray Douglas
Mutersbaugh Tad



15 Appendix
15.1 Interview questions
1 Greetings.
2 Please introduce yourself, and say what GPC (Producer's group) you are in?
3 For how long have you been growing cotton?
4 How many acres do you crop?
5 How was the season this year?
Context – SWOT Analysis
6 What are the advantages (strengths) of cotton cropping? What were you able to realise
with the cotton money?
7 What are the difficulties (weaknesses) of cotton growing?
8 What are the causes of these difficulties?
9 According to you what are the perspectives for the future (negative and positive)?
10 What are you wishes for the amelioration of your life/work conditions for a fairer cotton
11 According to you, is the present situation unfair?
12 What are your rights as cotton producers? Are they respected?
13 What are your responsibilities in front of the GPC? The SOFITEX?
14 Can you tell us a story/anecdote in which you think the SOFITEX has been unfair to the
Complement (to ask to 1-2 people, especially for the documentary)
15 What's a typical day in the life of a cotton grower?
16 What is the seasonal cycle for cotton work?
17 What is the history of cotton growing in Karangasso-Sambla?
18 Can you make an estimate of the spending and revenues you get from cotton growing?
19 Can you explain to us the details of GPC functioning?
20 Have you got anything to add before we end the interview?
THANK YOU!! Anitié Kossobè!

15.2 Focus Group Questions
Preliminary Focus Groups 1 & 2
Talk to us about the actors (USA, China, France)
Talk to us about the structures (GPC, UNPCB, are they efficient? Problems, solutions?)

Focus group 1 (Tountoun at Salif's place – 11-18 people)
What is the role of women in cotton growing, should they be part of GPC?
● Do you think you could get along?
● situation : somebody comes up and offers 235F a kilo on the condition that women
participate in the GPC, what do you do (reaction/choice) (add ceteris paribus)
● MES, this same person offers your 265F and proposed you should split it between the
producers and the GPC for community improvement. How do you split it? Why?
Consequences? Impact?
(question badly asked, add ceteris paribus because of the inputs' price)
● What are the strengths and weaknesses of cotton growing? (producers insisted to talk
about this).
Focus group 2 (downtown Karangasso, at Ardjuma's place) (11 people)
● Women
 women's role in cotton growing
 should there be women in the GPC?
 Could men and women get along?
 Situation : what if someone offered 235FCFA/kg for your cotton insisting women
should be involved equally in GPC, what would you do? (idem question 3 of focus
group 1)
● Price and premium division
 Situation : Suppose someone offers to pay 265FCFA/kg, but the condition is that
you split it between individual producers and GPC. What proportion should be
given to each? Why?
 The person insists that the GPC has to use its share for community improvement.
What do you think of this?
● Environment
 The buyer offering 235FCFA/kg does not want you to use chemical inputs. What
do you think?
 The buyer says he cannot give the inputs ready but you have to make it yourself
(compost, manure). Is that a good deal?

15.3 Informed Consent Form

Étude de Faisabilité du Commerce Équitable du Coton au Burkina Faso
Formulaire de Consentement – Version Française

Je m'appelle Émanuèle Lapierre-Fortin, je suis une étudiante canadienne de l'Université de
Toronto. Je suis volontaire pour 10 mois à la Maison des Associations de Lutte Contre le SIDA à
Bobo-Dioulasso. Je mène présentement une étude de faisabilité sur le commerce équitable du
coton dans le département de Karangasso-Sambla.
En tant que cotonculteur ou résident de Karangasso-Sambla, je vous demande de m'aider à
réaliser cette étude. Durant mon séjour à Karangasso, je vais parler à plusieurs personnes qui sont
impliquées dans la industry du coton; ensuite je vais leur poser des questions, on va discuter en
groupe et faire une série d'activités amusantes pour que je comprenne mieux les réalités du coton
au Burkina.
Ce document vous explique le sujet de cette recherche et vous dit ce que j'attend de vous. Si vous
acceptez de participer, je vais laisser une copie du document avec vous. Je vous dis ceci parce
qu'au Canada, il y a une loi qui exige qu'avant de faire une étude avec des gens, on doit leur dire
pourquoi on fait cela, et s'assurer qu'ils sont d'accord.
Conditions de participation
Votre participation est votre choix, vous pouvez me dire tout de suite si vous ne voulez pas
participer et vous êtes libre de vous retirer à n'importe quel moment sans conséquences. Après
qu'on ait finit de lire toute l'information sur cette étude, vous pourrez me dire si vous voulez
participer ou pas.
S'il y a des questions avec lesquelles vous n'êtes pas confortable ou auxquelles vous ne voulez
pas répondre durant les entrevues, groupes de discussions, questionnaires ou activités, vous ne
serez pas obligé de répondre. Vous pouvez aussi me demander d'arrêter l'enregistrement de notre
discussion si vous voulez.
Si vous décidez de participer à cette étude, vous allez vous joindre à d'autres gens de Karangasso
ainsi qu'à mon assistant et moi-même. Je voudrais savoir quelles sont les réalités de la production
du coton ici au village, et je aussi si c'est une bonne idée de certifier ce coton comme “équitable”.
En tout, je vais vous demander environ trois heures de votre temps, et on va décider le temps, la
date et l'endroit de notre rencontre pour que ça vous arrange le mieux.
Je vais enregistrer ce que vous me dites sur une cassette vidéo pendant qu'on se parle. Je fais cela
pour me rappeler de toutes les choses importantes que vous mentionnez et cela va m'aider à faire
un meilleur travail qui sera plus utile aux gens de Karangasso. Je vous filme aussi pour qu'ensuite
je puisse montrer aux gens du Canada quelle est la situation des gens ici, car la plupart ne sont au
courant de rien par rapport au coton et au Burkina. Toutefois, si vous préférez ne pas être filmé, je
vous prie de me le dire avant qu'on commence ou à n'importe quel moment pendant notre travail,
et je vais arrêter la machine. Aussi, vous n'avez pas à dire votre nom lorsque vous êtes en
entrevue¸ si vous le souhaitez. Comme ça, si vous le souhaitez, la personne qui va traduire vos
propos ou voir le film ne saura pas qui vous êtes.

Je ne crois pas qu'il y ait de risques, problèmes ou dommages potentiels pour vous en participant
à cette étude. Il y a certaines questions que vous pouvez trouver bizarres ou personnelles, mais
vous avez toujours le choix d'y répondre ou pas.
En tant qu'individu, vous ne recevrez pas de motivation en argent pour m'aider dans cette
recherche. Par contre, quand j'aurai fini d'écrire ma recherche au Canada, je vais vous en envoyer
une copie pour que tout le monde puisse voir ce que j'ai trouvé. Aussi, cette recherche devrait
entraîner une meilleure compréhension de l'industrie du coton au Burkina par les Canadiens, ce
qui peut aussi vous aider.
Accès à l'information, confidentialité et publication des résultats
Personne à part mon assistant et moi-même ne va entendre les choses que vous me dites ou voir
les matériels de nos activités. Une fois que j'ai écris ce que vous m'avez dit, je vais garder tout
cela sur mon ordinateur, et personne d'autre ne pourra y avoir accès. Une fois que j'ai fini mon
rapport de recherche en Mai 2008, je vais détruire tous les documents en liens avec ce que vous
m'avez dit pour que personne ne puisse avoir accès à votre information personnelle.
Avant de commencer nos activités, on va donner un code à tous les participants, pour qu'après, on
n'utilise plus vos noms mais plutôt un numéro. Ainsi, ce que vous dites reste entre nous
seulement. Lorsque je prendrai des images vidéos de vous pour les projeter devant la famille, les
amis et les collègues au Canada, je ne vais pas écrire votre nom sur l'écran si vous ne voulez pas,
et je peux aussi brouiller votre visage sur l'écran de manière à ce que personne ne puisse vous
reconnaître même s'ils viennent à Karangasso. S'il y a des moments du film que vous ne voulez
pas que je rende public, vous pouvez me le dire et je ne les diffuserai pas.
Si vous avez des questions par rapport à cette étude ou bien si vous voulez en savoir plus sur vos
droits et les implications de votre participation, n'hésitez pas à me contacter à :
Emanuele Lapierre Fortin
No F 08, Cite CAN, Secteur 22, Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, B P 382
Ou à contacter mon superviseur à :
Kenneth MacDonald,
Professor, Program in International Development Studies,
University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M1C 1A4.
Signature du participant

Signature de l'enquêteur


15.4 Letter of Permission

15.5 Documentary Film
The documentary film associated with this thesis will stimulate the awareness of the Canadian
public that exploitation in the textile supply chain beings in the field.
It seeks to:
● Tell the stories of daily realities and anecdotes of cotton producers to an external public;
● Identify the difficulties linked with the cotton growing and commercialisation, the causes
of these as well as solutions proposed by producers who are not familiar with the FT
● Show the dynamics of power, equity and oppression in conventional and fair trade;
● Indicate how the actors of the cotton trade are perceived and represented amongst each
● Show what type of solutions the FT movement can bring to hardships in the cotton
● Present the challenges of FT cotton;
● Portray the heterogeneity in the way FT is understood and justified;
● Advocate for better standards of living for Burkinabè cotton growers.
You can find the synopsis as well as more detail on the documentary on its official website: The film is available on that side as well as an attachment to this thesis.