If you are reading this, you have likely internalized the mantra that you "vote with your fork" three (probably more) times a day. But those of us who are hell-bent on changing the food system through consumer decisions sometimes find it quite difficult to figure out exactly what we're actually voting for. Labels exist and are proliferating, but more often than not the consumer is left seriously wanting in the information department. And sometimes, what we think we are voting for with a specific label may not be quite what was expected.
A recent paper from the Center for Global Development (CGDev) gets at the questions implicit in this issue - does fair trade work for producers? how fair is fair trade for consumers? Specifically concerned with the coffee market in the US, the report looked at the current state of the fair trade market, and considered the implications of the US break-off from the international Fair Labeling Organizations. In an interview the author also noted that despite the lack of clear, universal benefits from fair trade, it does make markets work better by including some of the costs associated with irresponsible labor and land management practices.
Regardless, it always pays to do your homework. Part of being an ethical and conscious consumer is not blindly following the trendy certification. For now know, that generally speaking, purchasing fair trade will be getting us one step closer to a more just food system.