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A fair and sustainable trade, between market and solidarity:diagnosis and prospects

Research project CP/16 (Research action CP)

Persons :

Description :


One of the aspects of sustainable trade deals with the perception of resource distribution processes, notably between North and South, and implies the adaptation of consumption and production modes, so as to reach a well-balanced social and economic development. Although fair trade is becoming more and more important indeed, one is forced to note the deficiency of scientific experience in this field: the research work on the subject is often of an applied or even militant kind and has limited theoretical anchors. Yet, theoretical currents that have been developed in the economic and sociological literature may now be applied to fair trade research.

Project description


- Analyse the fair trade network as a whole, as well as its extension possibilities as a sustainable and responsible production and consumption mode with the prospect of North-South relationships and fairness in the economic process, and as a new ethical consumption mode in the North.
- Provide fair trade with a conceptual and theoretical foundation, in all its economic, sociological and marketing aspects.
- Come to scientifically based recommendations in the field of fair trade supporting policies.


The favoured methodology studies fair trade’s entire process, through three integrated approaches: an economic approach, an anthropological approach and a marketing approach. This methodology can be divided as follows:

- A study of the producers:

- Analysis of the producers’ socio-economic conditions, their organisations and activity context;
- Field studies on the impacts of fair trade, assessment of its efficiency on poverty reduction and comparison of this form of "assistance" with classical development projects. The comparative approach is concerned with two cultural areas: sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America;
- Bringing fair trade into a theoretical perspective (sociology of social movements).

- A study of the networks:

- In-depth economic analysis of the fair trade networks: dissection of the price and of the added value, comparison with classical networks (studied products are coffee, honey and bananas);
- Marketing analysis of fair trade’s distribution strategies;
- Voluntary participation and human resources management in the points of sales.

- A study of the consumers:

- Analysis of the demand for fair products, of the consumers’ profiles and purchasing behaviours;
- Bringing fair trade consumption as a social commitment into a sociological perspective.

Interaction between the different partners

A multidisciplinary approach is necessary for the global perception of fair trade’s different aspects and is integrated during the research, with the three teams working in a collaborative way. The study of the producers is carried out from a socio-anthropological and economic point of view, both on theoretical and field research level. The study of the distribution networks comes within the three economic, marketing and sociological approaches (voluntary participation and HRM). The study of the consumers combines the sociological and marketing approaches, notably through a joint survey.

Expected results and/or products

At the theoretical level, the expected results are mainly:

- the conceptualisation and modelisation of fair trade;
- the bringing into perspective of fair trade from the angle of sociological and economic theories;
- an assessment of fair trade’s potential as a tool for development aid.

At a more pragmatic level, the research will lead to recommendations aiming at:

- improving the relationships between producers and with networks;
- improving distribution strategies;
- determining the factors that could have a positive influence on the consumption of fair products and set up priorities (target groups).

As a conclusion, we will set out fair trade’s future prospects, as a sustainable production and consumption mode from the South to the North.

The research’s different valuation modes will be:

- the exchange of information with the users’ committee (field players);
- publications in scientific journals (theoretical input);
- recommendations to concerned authorities.



Department for Social Change and Development (Service de Changement social et Développement) (University of Liège, ULg):

- socio-anthropological aspects of the field studies (the producers’ socio-economic conditions and organisation, assessment of the development’s impact);
- application of sociological theories to the thought on fair trade;
- analysis of the consumers’ sociological profile and social commitment;
- coordination of the research teams.

Centre for Social Economy (Centre d’Économie sociale) (ULg):

- economic aspects of the field studies and the analysis of the networks;
- application of economic theories to the thought on fair trade, and modelisation.

Marketing Department (University of Antwerp, UA):

- in-depth marketing analysis of fair trade consumption;
- analysis of distribution strategies.


- Marc PONCELET, Service de Changement social et Développement (PôLE-SuD), University of Liège
Boulevard du Rectorat, 7, Bât. B31, bte 8, B-4000 Liège
Tel: +32 (0)4 366 30 74 ; Fax: +32 (0)4 366 47 51
Web site:

- Jacques DEFOURNY, Centre d’Économie sociale (CES), University of Liège
Boulevard du Rectorat, 7, Bât. B33, bte 4, B-4000 Liège
Tel: +32 (0)4 366 31 36 ; Fax: +32 (0)4 366 28 51

- Patrick DE PELSMACKER, Marketing Department, University of Antwerp-Management School
Sint-Jacobsmarkt, 9-13, B-2000 Antwerp
Tel: +32 (0)3 220 47 49 ; Fax: +32 (0)3 220 47 69

Users Committee
- Johan Declercq - Max Havelaar België - Brussel
- Josiane Droeghag - Max Havelaar België - Brussel
- Paul Geeraert - FOD Volksgezondheid, Veiligheid van de Voedselketen en Leefmilieu - Federale Diensten voor het Leefmilieu - Brussel (plaatsvervanger)
- Guy Hendrix - Cabinet du Secrétaire d'Etat à la Coopération au Développement - Bruxelles
- Denis Lambert - OXFAM - Bruxelles
- Benoît Olivier - Miel Maya Honing asbl/vzw - Maya Fair Trading - Liège
- Samuel Poos - Centre Fair Trade - Brussel
- Jean-François Rixen - OXFAM - Bruxelles

Documentation :

Un commerce équitable et durable entre marché et solidarité : diagnostic et perspectives : rapport final  Poncelet, Marc - Defourny, Jacques - De Pelsmaker, Patrick  Bruxelles : Politique scientifique fédérale, 2004 (SP1451)
[To download

A fair and sustainable trade, between market and solidarity: diagnosis and prospects : final report  Poncelet, Marc - Defourny, Jacques - De Pelsmaker, Patrick  Brussels : Federal Science Policy, 2004 (SP1452)
[To download]  [To order

Un commerce équitable et durable entre marché et solidarité : diagnostic et perspectives : résumé    Bruxelles : Politique scientifique fédérale, 2004 (SP1453)
[To download

A fair and sustainable trade, between market and solidarity: diagnosis and prospects : summary    Brussels : Federal Science Policy, 2004 (SP1454)
[To download

Een eerlijke handel tussen Markt en Solidariteit : synthese    Brussel : Federaal Wetenschapsbeleid, 2004 (SP1455)
[To download

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