Of Old and New Business Ethics: How Fair Trade Becomes Patronage and Paternalism in a Darjeeling Tea Plantation


  • Arnaud Kaba EHESS (Toulouse)




Fair Trade, labor, patronage, business ethics, tea plantations, neoliberalism


This paper is about Fair Trade and business ethics. It analyses data from fieldwork conducted in a famous Darjeeling tea plantation which practices biological and biodynamic farming and is labeled as Fair Trade. Its aim is to show how the plantation owner, using aggressive marketing of his engagement with eco-friendly and corporately-responsible management, has managed to regenerate an old patronage system more or less similar to industrial paternalism, but with its roots in colonial as well as indigenous domination structures. Disappointed by their unions, workers have had no alternative but to accept this form of governance, and some even acknowledge it as a good one. This case is a good example of how Fair Trade, which claims to empower workers, can be used to fuel a system which results in their disempowerment as social actors.