RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2017

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308 Where Next for the Ethical Market? (2): consumption perspectives
Affiliation Geographies of Justice Research Group
Convenor(s) Agatha Herman (Cardiff University, UK)
Chair(s) Agatha Herman (Cardiff University, UK)
Timetable Friday 01 September 2017, Session 2 (11:10 - 12:50)
Room Sir Alexander Fleming Building, Room 122
Session abstract In 2014, certified Fairtrade in the UK experienced its first decline in sales since it was founded (Butler, 2015); although sales rallied in 2015 (Fairtrade Foundation, 2016), the contemporary market for ethical labels more broadly is arguably transforming. The rise of low-cost food retailers, the global recession, changing market regulations, fluctuating global commodity prices, shifting manufacturer allegiances (see Cadbury’s recent move from Fairtrade to Cocoa Life), the very proliferation of ‘ethical’ labels, spectacular media scoops on the impacts of such labelling schemes and concerns about their governance present dynamic and contingent retail and regulatory environments, which are challenging consumer trust and awareness, and producer access to markets and opportunities (Anderson, 2013; Dine, 2013; Hudson, Hudson and Fridell, 2013).

The continuation of ethical labels indicates their ongoing attraction but what is actually happening? Does this indicate a broader consumer interest in issues of justice? How can we conceptualise the changing market engagements with ethical certifications? What does this mean for their integrity, their effectiveness and their impact? While many started with a focus on the producer, who are they for now? Indeed, to what extent does the ‘ethical marketplace’ engage with broader efforts for alternative economies? For relations of solidarity? For social change?
Linked Sessions Where Next for the Ethical Market? (1): production perspectives
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2017@rgs.org
Invisible certifications within neo-colonial supply chains: the thorny case of ethical cut-flowers
David Bek (Coventry University, UK)
Jill Timms (Coventry University, UK)
The global cut-flower industry has grown significantly in the last two decades and extended its reach as new producers, including Ethiopia, Kenya and Columbia, aggressively pursuing neoliberal inspired export strategies. The European market is dominated by the Dutch auctions and wholesalers, who exert strategic control within these global production networks. The UK cut-flower market was valued at £1.8bn in 2014, with the majority of sales taking place via supermarket retailers. Interestingly, ethical certifications are rendered largely invisible within UK retail supply chains. On the one hand, requirements to comply with ethical and sustainability standards are not applied as consistently as in other fresh produce supply chains. Even in cases where producers are complying with standards such as MPS or Fair Flowers Fair Plants, this information is rarely communicated to the consumer. Thus, ‘ethics of care’, which are central to most flower purchases, do not appear to extend back down the supply chain to the actors and environments implicated in production.

Drawing upon empirical research into certification labelling practices amongst UK retailers, this paper will explore these practices, trends and apparent contradictions within the application of ethical and environmental certifications in the cut-flower industry. Furthermore, we will consider how future trajectories for cut-flower certification may play out in the context of the ongoing ferment within the broad ethical trade movement. We will argue that the thorny issue of certifications must be grasped by key stakeholders in order to confront an array of social and environmental risks embedded within these production networks.
Ethical Consumption in Times of Austerity
Eleanor Boyce (The University of Manchester, UK)
The 2008 financial crash has resulted in considerable speculation from within the ethical marketplace and in broader academic circles about the future of demand for ethically labelled products and services in the UK. Some have positioned ethical products as ‘luxury’ items that may be heavily impacted by the tightening purse strings of austerity. Yet, the Ethical Consumer Markets Report 2015 reveals a different story. The report highlights that overall sales of ethical products have risen consistently (with some variance across sectors) since 1999, at a faster rate than the traditional consumer market. Alongside this, the UK has witnessed the increasing popularity of consumer cultures and practices associated with the austerity of the 1930s to 1950s, including crafting, cooking and cultivation. These activities, for some, have come to represent a successful historic response to economic crisis and austerity. They encourage consumers to mend, re-appropriate items, or to be more ‘thrifty’ in their consumption choices. This research utilises a three-pronged methodological approach combining nationally representative survey analysis, ethnographic interviews with consumers (North-West) and ethical companies (UK) and ‘mobile’ shopping tours to explore how austerity has reshaped the ethical marketplace. Initial survey analysis has underlined the intrinsic relationship between money, our consumer ethics and how we are ‘getting by’ in times of austerity. Company interviews have illuminated the complexities of the ethical market as it fights to adapt to a changing economic climate.
Ethical complex-‘ities’: responsible business practice and the big brand takeover of farm animal welfare
John Lever (University of Huddersfield, UK)
Mara Miele (Cardiff University, UK)
As consumers have become increasingly concerned about food safety and food quality in recent decades public anxiety about the welfare of farmed animals has grown considerably. More recently, in line with the rise of market governance in the food industry, many large food companies have started to address FAW in their corporate responsibility (CSR) strategies. Such practice has allowed corporate retailers and supermarkets the flexibility and freedom to define FAW in their own terms and differentiate brands and product ranges with new quality attributes. Friedberg (2004), looking specifically at the UK, refers to these developments as ‘ethical complex’ – networks and partnerships within which NGOs, media, retailers and other economic and political actors have collaborated to create a specific market for ‘quality’ and ‘ethically’ branded products that lead to mutually beneficial outcomes.
In recent years this practice has intensified and FAW has taken on a new significance in line with discourses of business responsibility at the global level. During this period there has been an increase in partnership working between NGOs and global companies on a broad range of sustainability issues (Dauvergne and Lister 2013) and we argue that these developments are illustrative of the expansion of ‘ethical complex’ to larger geographical areas. Drawing on an ongoing analysis of the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare (BBFAW) (www.bbfaw.com) (Amos and Sullivan 2017), we argue that while these new partnerships have increased awareness of FAW at the global level in a positive way they also illustrate the superficial nature of corporate engagement with FAW. Many global food companies have little or no understanding of what they engage with FAW and we conclude that this is problematic for broader notions of ethicality and sustainability.
David Evans (The University of Sheffield, UK)