The Fight Against Plastic Water and for Water Justice

Fall 2023      University of California Press

Winner of 2024 Outstanding Publication Award,              Environmental Sociology Section, American Sociological Association

An exploration of bottled water's impact on social justice and sustainability, and how diverse movements are fighting back.

In just four decades, bottled water has transformed from a luxury niche item into a ubiquitous consumer product, representing a $300 billion market dominated by global corporations. It sits at the convergence of a mounting ecological crisis of single-use plastic waste and climate change, a social crisis of affordable access to safe drinking water, and a struggle over the fate of public water systems. Unbottled examines the vibrant movements that have emerged to question the need for bottled water and challenge its growth in North America and worldwide.

Drawing on extensive interviews with activists, residents, public officials, bottling firm representatives, and other participants in controversies ranging from bottled water's role in unsafe tap water crises to groundwater extraction for bottling in rural communities, the book asks what this commodity's meteoric growth means for social inequality, sustainability, and the human right to water. Unbottled profiles campaigns to reclaim the tap and addresses the challenges of ending dependence on packaged water in places where safe water is not widely accessible. Clear and compelling, it assesses the prospects for the movements fighting plastic water and working to ensure water justice for all.

Order the Book:    


"Jaffee emphasizes the resistance against bottled water’s hegemony, not just its negative effects, leaving the reader astonished but still hopeful. . . . For those wanting to fight for climate and water justice, this book is a must-read."

     --The Progressive Magazine

"In Unbottled, Daniel Jaffee offers a superbly researched argument that our growing dependence on bottled water is not only creating major environmental crises but also weakening the whole notion of public water services—thereby undermining the human right to water. This book, with its call to support grassroots water justice movements, is a major addition to a growing body of work by those who fight for a water-secure future." 

     —Maude Barlow, water justice activist and author

"A remarkable book, one that both sociologists and students of social movements will find useful and surprisingly enjoyable. After describing an ongoing corporate campaign that has persuaded consumers around the world to rely on water from plastic bottles, Jaffee traces how activists in very different communities have mobilized to protect their water sources, exploring how they framed issues, raised public awareness, and targeted companies and public regulators. Jaffee's ...insights will help readers understand both the broad structural dynamics shaping our world and the complicated local dynamics that play out in social movement campaigns." 

     —Gay Seidman, Martindale Bascom Professor of Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

"Jaffee has a knack for recognizing the deeper economic, social, and political consequences of the everyday decisions that most of us take for granted... He shows us the environmental cost of plastic water, as well as the societal cost of neglecting—and sometimes privatizing—our public water systems. And, as he always has, Jaffee gives us hope for the future by examining movements that recognize water as a necessity rather than a commodity. This is an essential book for everyone who seeks to reclaim the commons and build a just and equitable society." 

     —John Nichols, The Nation

"Unbottled will be required reading for anyone wanting to get the big picture on why we have been inundated with plastic containers selling something readily available and how we might get out of this mess."

     —Social Forces

University of California Press      Updated edition, 2014

Fair trade is a fast-growing alternative market intended to bring better prices and greater social justice to small farmers around the world. But what does a fair-trade label signify? This vivid study of coffee farmers in Mexico offers the first thorough investigation of the social, economic, and environmental benefits of fair trade. Based on extensive research in Zapotec indigenous communities in Oaxaca, Brewing Justice follows the members of the cooperative Michiza, whose organic coffee is sold on the international fair-trade market, and compares them to conventional farming families in the same region. The book carries readers into the lives of coffee-producer households and communities, offering a nuanced analysis of fair trade’s effects on everyday life and the limits of its impact. Brewing Justice paints a clear picture of the dynamics of the fair-trade market and its relationship to the global economy. Drawing on interviews with dozens of fair-trade leaders, the book also explores the movement’s fraught politics, especially the challenges posed by rapid growth and the increased role of transnational corporations. It concludes with recommendations to strengthen and protect the integrity of fair trade. This updated edition includes a substantial new chapter that assesses recent developments in both coffee-growing communities and movement politics, offering a guide to navigating the shifting landscape of fair-trade consumption.

Book Cover: Brewing Justice: Fair Trade Coffee, Sustainability, and Survival by Daniel Jaffee (Updated Edition with a New Preface and Final Chapter)

 Order the Book:    


"Brewing Justice is not just a study of fair trade coffee. It also provides alternatives to the unfair rules of trade imposed by the WTO. And it shows that we can all play a role in shaping the economy. Drinking coffee is a political act."   

     —Vandana Shiva, author of Earth Democracy

"Brewing Justice is an impressive account of the relationships and ethics embedded in fair trade coffee. Engaging the reader in a comparative global ethnography of fair and free trade coffee production, the author evaluates the gains and losses of fair trade for Mexican peasants. Jaffee's unique accomplishment is to show the consuming public how fair trade can be realized through improving the tenuous existence of producers."                          

     —Philip McMichael, author of Development and Social Change

"The idea of fair trade in a global economy is central to contemporary debates over neoliberalism, globalization and the rule of the free market. But what are the coordinates of the fair trade moment; what sort of alternative does it offer for producers and consumers? Daniel Jaffee is at once a fierce proponent of fair trade but also a critical voice. How, he asks, can fair trade coffee be in and against the market? With one foot in the Central American coffee fincas and the other in the intellectual world of Karl Polanyi and his disciples, Daniel Jaffee has on offer a very heady brew. Brewing Justice is a pioneering study of the variety of fair trade movements; a prospectus for a more radical vision of fair trade—an alternative sort of market; and a vital contribution to contemporary debates over free trade, the global agro-food system and the so-called 'movement of movements'. A tour de force."

     —Michael Watts, University of California, Berkeley

"Brewing Justice is at once a sobering account of what the fair trade movement has achieved, and an optimistic statement that only by deepening movements like this one, will society advance in the direction of economic democracy and justice."

     —Gerardo Otero, professor of sociology and Latin American Studies, Simon Fraser University

“Highly readable and . . . highly recommended.”  

     —Amanda Rappak, Gastronomica: Journal Of Food & Culture

“Impassioned, systematic, and profoundly researched.”   

     Plenty Magazine

Book cover: Cosechando Justicia (Spanish-language edition of Brewing Justice), by Daniel Jaffee

El comercio justo es un mercado alternativo internacional en rápido crecimiento que busca promover una mayor justicia social para los pequeños productores y ofrecer mejores precios para sus productos. Este estudio de los productores de café en México es el primero en analizar detalladamente los beneficios sociales, económicos y medioambientales del comercio justo. Basado en un extensa investigación etnográfica en comunidades indígenas Zapotecas de la Sierra Juárez de Oaxaca, Cosechando Justicia explora vívidamente la vida de los socios de la cooperativa Michiza, cuyo café orgánico es vendido en el mercado internacional de comercio justo, comparándola con la de los productores de café convencional en la misma región. El libro introduce a los lectores en la cotidianidad de los hogares productores de café en esta región, y ofrece un análisis detallado de los impactos y los límites del comercio justo en la vida diaria de los campesinos y sus comunidades. Cosechando Justicia presenta un retrato claro y conciso de las dinámicas del mercado de comercio justo y sus relaciones con la economía global. Este estudio también explora los intrincados aspectos políticos del movimiento, particularmente las contradicciones y los retos que han surgido como resultado del incremento en la participación de empresas transnacionales bajo el símbolo de comercio justo. El libro concluye con recomendaciones enfocadas en fortalecer y proteger la integridad del comercio justo.