Auditing the subjects of fair trade: Coffee, development, and surveillance in highland Chiapas

Fair trade certification is a mechanism used by coffee cooperatives to assist farmers with accessing cash income and securing a better price for their product. Third-party certifiers regulate the fair trade label, which is tied not only to price, but also to standards for production and development. In this paper, I examine these standards as they are deployed in self-declared autonomous communities in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico. I argue that third-party certifiers through enforcement of standards, and surveillance attempt to create a producer subject who becomes “fixed” through certification. Drawing from fieldwork with the coffee cooperative Maya Vinic, I provide an example of how farmers negotiate larger political commitments and livelihood strategies while engaging in coffee production. Members of Maya Vinic reside in communities that have declared autonomy from the Mexican state and neoliberal market. These political commitments draw a tension into the landscape as farmers commit land and time to coffee while maintaining subsistence production. Through an examination of the annual fair trade audit, I detail this contradiction as it plays out in the highlands. I conclude that new lines of inquiry must be established that take into account place-based politics as they intersect with fair trade certification.

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Volume 35 Issue 5

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