Ethical trade is an increasingly popular approach that allows companies to manage the social and environmental dimensions of their supply chains. Yet is it able to benefit poor producers and workers in developing economies, particularly those who outside of industrial production systems?
This paper examines how ethical trade is being applied to smallholder tea, coffee and cocoa growers in Asia, Africa and South America. It shows that many of the primary concerns among growers are not included in ethical trade standards. It argues that, although civil-society organisations have influenced the direction and scope of such standards (e.g. through partnerships with companies), the cultural and ideational dimensions to ethical trade impose limits on what can be modified and improved. Furthermore, the standards overlook critical aspects of business practice and their consequences for growers.
The consequences of this are not only potentially detrimental for ethical trade’s intended beneficiaries but also for this system’s corporate supporters. No matter what the business case may be for ethical trade, ultimately its success depends on accurately identifying and addressing the well-being of those in developing countries. This paper shows not only how far we are from achieving that goal but also some of the hitherto unrecognised reasons.