F​​air trade and consumer social responsibility: exploring consumer citizenship as a driver of social and environmental change

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    Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to examine the historical position of the ethical consumer as a driver of change within the Fair Trade movement. Fair Trade was originally envisaged as a model of South-North trade, however; with Fair Trade labels now available to consumers in India, Brazil, South Africa and Kenya, the geographies of production and consumption appear increasingly fluid and dynamic.

    Design/ methodology/ approach - Using a historical comparative case study approach this paper draws on the records and archives from eight leading Fair Trade organisations based in the UK.

    Findings - The paper develops an exploratory framework based on an assessment of Fair Trade’s theory(ies) of change and the role of the ethical consumer as an agent of change. Four consumer narratives are identified: 1. Simpler living and moral action, 2. Co-operation and solidarity, 3. Consumer demand and choice, 4. Citizen-consumers. The paper concludes by considering the implications for globalising the concept of the ‘citizen-consumer’ and the (re)politicisation of the Fair Trade consumption.

    Research limitations/ implications - Primary data collection was mainly based on UK organisations. Additional comparative studies could develop an understanding of the context and geographies of Fair Trade practices.

    Practical implications - New and emerging Fair Trade markets may offer valuable areas of further study.

    Social implications - Increased understanding of the drivers of social change may lead to improved decision-making within Fair Trade organisations and policy-makers.

    Originality/ value - The paper contributes to the development and understanding of Fair Trade’s theory of change model by offering an historical dimension that is absent from the majority of existing studies.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)634-651
    Number of pages18
    JournalManagement Decision
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2018


    • consumer citizenship
    • consumer social responsibility
    • Fair Trade
    • theory of change


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