Fair-trade activities in the South have tended to be studied in relation to the internal aims of the fair-trade organisations themselves. This article argues that it is also critical to consider the wider fair-trade ‘arena’ or set of interactions. The authors focus on Tanzania and Nicaragua and study the role of four key actors – small-scale producers, co-operatives, development partners, and public authorities. Using comparative data from field studies conducted in 2002-2003, the article identifies key national and international issues affecting local producers. Illustrating how fair trade evolves differently according to context, the article examines how the co-operative movement in Nicaragua has been strengthened by fair-trade production, in contrast to the situation in Tanzania. It concludes by discussing some of the challenges faced by fair trade, including how to reconcile the demands of the market with building solidarity.
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