One hundred years of labor control: violence, militancy, and the Fairtrade banana commodity chain in Colombia
Environment and Planning A., Vol. 45 (11), 2013
This paper explores the role of Fairtrade certification in mediating banana production relations in Urabá, Colombia. While the country has long been incorporated into the world banana economy, the region’s fraught history of dispossession, exploitation, and resistance make it a useful site through which to consider its more recent articulation into the Fairtrade banana commodity chain. In some respects, the emergence of Fairtrade in Urabá could be framed as a win–win. Banana growers have enrolled in certified commodity chains as a way to add value, stabilize their position in a volatile global market, and bring additional resources to workers. However, Fairtrade’s role in reframing Urabá as a site of ethical banana production has been contingent upon multiple forms of marginalization and devaluation, expressed in their most extreme form through an armed conflict that swept the region during the last two decades of the 20th century. Fieldwork conducted with banana workers and growers in Urabá suggests that Fairtrade programs resonate with the local industry’s longer term strategy to promote voluntarism as the appropriate mechanism for alleviating poverty and inequality. In addition, by creating disparities in the material resources and structures of negotiation available to banana workers, Fairtrade has produced new uneven geographies within the regional banana production complex. These developments are particularly problematic given their potential to undermine labor solidarity in the face of an erosion of labor standards in the global banana economy and the reassertion of elite control in the region.