How an Organic Certification System Transforms Farmers' Work: The Case of a Transnational Cotton Production Chain Between France and Brazil

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 14:15
Location: Hörsaal 50 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Laura CHARTAIN, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS/Paris), France, Paris Dauphine University, France, University of Sao Paulo (USP/Brazil), Brazil
In this presentation, I analyze the effects of a certification system on the work of North-Eastern Brazilian farmers (from the region of « Sertao ») in an agroecological cotton production chain that is built by French social entrepreneurs advocating criteria of fair-trade. I will present observations and interviews for my doctoral thesis in sociology conducted during several months with a plurality of actors of the chain (social entrepreneurs, farmers producers of cotton, local NGOs linked to regional social movements). An apparent tension lies in how social entrepreneurs justify organic certification as a market and consumers requirement while simultaneously establishing it as a strategy and firm policy which aims at improving local organizational performance. Entrepreneurs’ imposition of organic certification of cotton as a new purchasing criterion becomes a control system on local farmers’ work-norms who subsequently start thinking and acting differently in relation to their work and start imposing new requirements upon themselves. I notice the important transformations of farmers work, such as additional working hours and differentiated attention to the cotton production process. Such differentiated attention alters value and quality perceptions that small-scale Brazilian farmers have of their cotton and their own work. As a result, some farmers demand a higher price for their work, claiming that the higher quality of their cotton and extra time spent to produce it justifies a higher compensation than initially paid by French entrepreneurs. The relationship between French entrepreneurs and Brazilian farmers is based on a contract signed by both parties and reinforced by meetings and direct exchanges, there by seemingly creating a new kind of transnational wage system based on hybrid social techniques of control and exchange.