Semiotica 2020 (232):251-271 (2020)

There has been criticism of how Fair-Trade products represent workers in remote parts of the world where packaging offers an encounter with distant others which romanticizes and homogenizes them as a pre-modern form of ethnicity. Such workers are shown as always engaged in authentic, simple, honest decontextualized manual labor. And they are depicted as highly appreciative of, and empowered by, the act of ethical shopping. This paper shows that a close social semiotic analysis of Fair-Trade packaging reveals a different set of meanings which sit alongside the decontextualized ones. Designs integrate these workers into more contemporary kinds of modernist, rational, design chic, which communicates its own kind of honesty and authenticity. We consider how this, too, shapes how such consumers encounter distant others and its consequence for the meaning of the act of ethical shopping, where consumers can buy into moral alignment offered by products.
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DOI 10.1515/sem-2019-0035
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