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A Band-Aid Solution to Economic Development: The False Promise of 'Fair Trade'

The process of economic development elicits many thoughts, analyses, speculations, suggestions, descriptions, prescriptions, and conclusions. Nevertheless, it invokes an imagined reality that is fundamentally progressive. It entails a commitment to the idea that we as human beings, in order to maximize our human potential, can, and should, try to change the world for the better. That is, it should be an attempt to reduce vast inequalities, social injustices, and hegemonic forces that intrinsically develop extensive imbalances of rights, privileges, and responsibilities across the world's population, and moreover deny many a condition of life regarded as materially, culturally, spiritually, and symbolically superior.

This paper is an exploration of the role of fair trade as an effective developmental initiative in promoting economic self-sufficiency for marginalized producers of the periphery. From Sen and Nussbaum's 'capabilities approach' for evaluating human well-being, I focus on the foundation, structure, and influence of fair trade as an alternative development model and analyze the model within the UNICEF empowerment framework. The UNICEF framework is based on the premise that empowerment involves five levels: 1) Welfare, 2) Access, 3) Conscientization, 4) Participation, and 5) Control. From this discussion, I conclude that, in the long run, fair trade fails to be a sustainable substitute for the neoliberal orthodoxy that currently dominates the institutional mechanisms addressing global poverty.

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