This paper uses a global value chain framework to analyse the globalised struggle over the embeddedness of agriculture between neoliberalism as a system and the fair trade network. The neoliberal model of governance is discussed in terms of its effects on value chain dynamics and power relationships. Neoliberal governance promotes the pursuit of individual gain at the expense of social considerations, i.e. a Polanyian disembedded economy. It is argued that the three crucial aspects of neoliberal governance are that it forces economic actors with unequal access to resources into a system of global competition, resulting in a loss of local control over the development process. Together, these characteristics drive the process of global and local unequalisation. The fair trade network in contrast is considered here as an attempt to re-embed the agricultural economy by creating a sense of producer-consumer solidarity and building an alternative consumer-driven value chain governance model with the aim of enhancing producer livelihoods. Based on a discussion of power and space in the governance of global agricultural value chains, it is argued that fair trade’s ability to counter the disembedding effects of neoliberalism – unequal access to resources, competition, and delocalisation – has been and will likely continue to be limited. It is argued that the fair trade consumer-driven model might benefit from forging alliances with other civic groups who can challenge the neoliberal model directly in the spaces of governance in which it is dominant.

Agriculture, neoliberalism, fair trade, global value chains, Polanyi, power, space, countermovement, civic agency
Knorringa, Peter
Individual Study Programme (ISP)
International Institute of Social Studies

Konforti, Lazar. (2008, January). CHALLENGING NEOLIBERALISM. Individual Study Programme (ISP). Retrieved from