Fairtrade and Sustainable Development: a Social Capital Perspective

Erika Torres Luquin, Acosta Chan & Karla Feliciana

Studenteropgave: Speciale


Coffee is one of the most widely consumed beverages globally, many of us enjoy the warm elixir that starts our daily activities, but almost none stop to consider the odyssey the beans have gone through, the impact on the environment or the conditions in which the producers live. The bean follows a complicated and extended chain of events that changes it, and adds value to it before it reaches our daily warm cup. Coffee is produced in southern latitudes and it is an important internationally traded commodity associated with the life of a large number of small-scale family farmers. Fairtrade is a global private regulatory scheme that pays a minimum fixed coffee price to the producers to promote sustainable development among small-scale coffee farmers. The consideration of social capital as one of the most important achievements of this global scheme leads us to question the way in which social capital is being created and/or reinforced by Fairtrade; and the extent to which this form of capital could enable sustainable development. This thesis specifically explore to what extent social capital created and/or reinforced by Fairtrade promotes sustainable development for small-scale coffee farmers. The theoretical framework chosen for the analysis and discussion of our investigation is Sustainable Development under the Fairtrade scheme (established with base in the Fairtrade Standard Principles) and Social Capital theory under two different sociological perspectives offered by Robert Putnam and Pierre Bourdieu. The methodology applied is a qualitative research based on an abduction method and the use of a case study in Chiapas, Mexico. The research presents two different examples (Oxchuc and Jaltenango) analyzing the achievement of the sustainable development promoted by Fairtrade under a social capital perspective. The primary empirical data is integrated by qualitative interviews, direct observations and literature research. The results of the investigation indicate that Fairtrade has a positive impact over small-scale coffee farmers regarding income security and environmental conservation of coffee agro-ecosystems. However, issues of lack of capability and land size may constitute important constrains. The social capital perspective applied to our investigation reveals that social capital cannot be regarded as a mere networking where all members can benefit, as suggested by Putnam and his followers. Instead, social capital comprises the networks and the capability of members to use the networks for their benefit, as suggested by Bourdieu and his followers. We conclude that the importance of individuals in truly understanding their participation in the networking created by the Fairtrade scheme represent a core factor for enabling Sustainable Development under the scheme.

UddannelserTekSam - miljøplanlægning, (Bachelor/kandidatuddannelse) Kandidat
Udgivelsesdato14 jun. 2007
VejledereErling Jelsøe & Bente Kjærgård


  • Social Capital
  • Sustainable Development
  • Fairtrade
  • Mexico
  • Coffee
  • Small-Scale Farmers