Fair Trade

‘Fair Trade,’ forthcoming in The International Encyclopedia of Ethics, Second Edition, ed. Hugh LaFollette.

In general, an argument for fairness must specify the grounds of the argument, the relevant claimant(s) and duty-bearer(s), and the contested goods. Arguments for fair trade are grounded in at least one of the following two reasons. First, trade is a particular kind of relationship with valuable goods at stake, and it is appropriate for the participants in this kind of relationship to have duties of fairness to one another. Second, fairness in a trading relationship is valuable in virtue of its consequences, including its impact beyond the scope of the relationship. Both justifications raise important questions that must be addressed in order to complete an argument for fair trade. Who are the participants in trade? What are the goods that trade produces? Some arguments about fair trade reference a description of trade as an economic relationship between individuals and groups based in different countries. Other arguments reference a description of trade as an economic relationship between nation-states. A further set of arguments describe trade with reference to the subject of justice, which may consist in practices, dense associations, or institutions. The meaning of an argument for fair trade depends on its description of trade. For all descriptions, however, there is a common question about the appropriate method of ethical reasoning about trade. Should trade be described and evaluated as a distinct subject, so that it makes sense to distinguish between its “internal” fairness and its “external” consequences?

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