Acitvity Ch. 2 – Justice Fishbowl

Fair Trade Institutions

Fair Trade Institutions

Ch. 2 in my book is about understanding the role of Institutions in Fair Trade.

This exercise is based on a Fishbowl Conversation.  A Fishbowl Conversation is a form of dialogue used to engage a group of peopel in differnet ways of viewing an issue.  The following is an exercise that enables the larger topic of Fair Trade to be examined from multiple perpectives.

Economist and Nobel Laureat Amartya Sen supports taking a nyaya approach towards understanding conflictive views of a situation by accepting that there are many different ways in which a common goal may be achieved. Before accepting these different ways, it is helpful to more deeply scrutinize and understand them. Often new ways of thinking or working together emerge.

The central arguments in Fair Trade focus on the dynamics of scaling up as institutions consider how or should Fair Trade become larger. Producers want to increase sales, but they want it to happen in a meaningful, careful and sustainable way.   Foreign markets are highly competitive and value efficiency over sustainability. In becoming more efficient, a greater amount of product is produced with lower overall costs. Institutions acting as bridges between producers and foreign markets, are left to balance both needs creating something known as sustainable growth.   Sustainable growth is often looked upon as an oxymoron. Critics claim the act of growth itself creates an off balance that negates sustainability.


Plan for 60 to 90 minutes per fishbowl exercise depending on the group size. Modifications of this exercise are presented below if time is a factor. A fishbowl can be done with as few as five and as many as 30 participants. Fifteen is an ideal number. For groups larger than 30 it is recommended to split the groups and have two or more, fishbowls going. When using multiple fishbowls, participants can move into different fishbowl circles helping to further circulate ideas and viewpoints.

To conduct the fishbowl, participants volunteer or are requested to enter into the center seats (group A). Amongst themselves, they discuss the question at hand for 15 to 20 minutes, speaking loudly enough for the others observing to hear them. The first fishbowl question presented for this exercise is:
How can institutions grow Fair Trade in a meaningful way?

A facilitator can prompt the group by asking their thoughts on big box stores selling Fair Trade, the presence of large plantations in Fair Trade production, and other controversial issues. Observers (group B) can take notes but can not interact or comment on what is being heard and observed. After 15 to 20 minutes, group A participants stop and turn towards the group B participants. One by one, each group B participant recalls what was heard and the related feelings. After all of Group B has shared their ideas, group A participants turn inwards again and engage in a new round of discussion for 10-15 minutes incorporating what was shared. When the time is up, group A participants enter into group B and group B members fill their seats.

On this second round of fishbowl a new question is introduced:
How can Fair Trade grow in a meaningful way?

Discussions can be set at 10 minutes if time is an issue in this second round. After group A has discussed, group B gave their input and group A discussed again, all participants join together for a final debriefing where a summary of ideas are shared. These can be written by participants or the facilitator on flip chart paper for future reference.

Dynamic modification

To create a more dynamic fishbowl that could lead to more varied, but less focused discussion in a shorter amount of time, three to five empty chairs are placed in the inner circle with chairs for all participants circling around them. As a participant has an idea to share on the discussion topic, they take a seat in the center circle and speak their idea. Another participant joins them and shares their idea and a discussion ensues. Others join in the discussion by occupying the empty chairs. Once all chairs are full, the first person who entered the group or has been in the group the longest, leaves. The object is to always have an empty chair available. Dynamic fishbowl discussions can go on for 20 to 30 minutes with the entire group then giving individual feedback on what was heard and the related feelings. After this first round, the second discussion question is introduced and the process begins anew. If groups have difficulty engaging in this fishbowl style at first, facilitators can begin as “discussants” and start a the conversation for others to participate in, leaving as the other