In search of dignified work

Gender and the work ethic in the crucible of fair trade production

by JOSH FISHER

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After building the first worker-owned free trade zone in the world, the women of the Fair Trade Zone in Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua, rejected fair trade and elected to go their own way. The small cooperative's decision, as well as their claim to be seeking “dignified work” (trabajo digno), does not express the existing norms and conventions of a local moral economy. Rather, it stems from an alternative work ethic that was formed through their particular experiences of fair trade production—one that rejected the logic of reproducing capital at the expense of social life and sought to preserve their workplace as a forum for dignity. Here, alternative work ethics unleash the inventive play of ethical labor and give rise to unruly subjects.