Summary: Our consumer culture has been linked to many social problems (e.g. see this documentary on consumerism). As discussed in Marx's theory of commodity fetishism, the social relations of capitalism are obscured in the commodity, and we are largely blind to the sweatshop labor, environmental degradation, and related social problems inherent in the commodity's production and consumption. Ethical and sustainable consumption (e.g. Fair Trade) seeks to address these problems and can be a way to encourage students to think about how their own consumption relates to these problems. This video discusses Fair Trade (FT) through the perspectives of small-scale farmers/producers (how FT has benefited them personally), retailers, the certifier (i.e. Fair Trade USA), and consumers (by focusing on campus groups promoting FT). It can also be used to better understand Marx's concept of commodity fetishism by juxtaposing the "Free Trade" and Fair Trade models (although this video is particularly great to discuss commodity fetishism because it emphasizes the social relationship between producer and consumer). This video emphasizes the power of the consumer to effect change through the products they buy every day, but I also encourage students to think critically about whether we can adequately address these social and environmental issues through consumer activism alone. I also have students explore their consumption using GoodGuide's smartphone app and paired this video with a good introductory chapter on Fair Trade: Kimberly Grimes' (2005) "Changing the Rules of Trade with Global Partnerships: The Fair Trade Movement" in this book (see more readings on FT here). You can also access other Fair Trade films at the Fair Trade Resource Network.
Submitted By: Paul Dean