An Ode to Fairtrade Fortnight

Fairtrade Fortnight is over once again, AKA the campaign period promoting what fairtrade is and why it matters. I've been a member of York Fair Trade Forum for a while now but it's only recently that I've considered a sociological take on where FT fits into consumption, identity and citizenship.

Most of us are aware of products on supermarket shelves with the FT certification, such as bananas and chocolate, which lets us know that the producer is paid a fair (or fairer) price for their produce akin to a living wage. But the remit of FT is more than that - it's a movement campaigning for social justice and empowerment.

So this got me thinking about whether consumers treat their grocery choices as 'political'. I'm writing an essay which explores the 'ethical consumption' of the likes of FT, the possibilities for citizenship and the ambiguities for identity. For example, negotiating the practicalities of cost with your moral values in constructing a coherent identity, if indeed this is possible when individual decision-making is such an uncertain task.

The role of consumption in identity work has been widely documented since the symbolic value of products is recognised as a means of expressing and constructing the self in relation to others. The endeavour to 'make a difference' in our everyday practices is more than an individual, personal act as we buy into a lifestyle, a value system. But does an ambivalence arise when engagement with ethical consumption is inconsistent - a few free range eggs here, a bunch of FT bananas there. Or in my case, as a campaigner for the FT movement exercising a weaker affinity to purchasing the products. To be considered acts of citizenship, do we have to show a 'commitment' or is it simply enough to be interested and reflexive some of the time?

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