Increasing domination by powerful private corporations is one of the dominant themes of our current food system. Giant food retailers like WalMart are among the largest corporations in the world and their drive for ever lower prices and greater profits have been shown to be impacting negatively on farmers, producers, workers, animals, and ecosystems everywhere.
If this were the only element in the story-line then would we rightly have cause for despair. However there is a counter-narrative. As markets have globalised, so have civil society groups which seek to preserve values other than profit. From Greenpeace to the Fairtrade Foundation, a wide range of pressure groups have learned that powerful drivers for reform in markets can come from persuading ordinary consumers to change their buying behaviour.
Rob Harrison will introduce some of the key players in this counter narrative: pressure groups and NGOs, campaigning companies like Café Direct. He will also talk about some of the main ways they intervene – from calling boycotts, to launching new products and introducing third-party auditing. The lecture will also include a bit of a historical perspective to see how this movement has grown over the last 25 years. We are now in a world where in some markets (such as Tea in the UK) the majority of products are ‘ethically certified’. There is also, quite rightly, a wide range of critiques of each of these new certification systems. This raises the question of what consumer markets might look like in another 20 years if this trajectory of growth is continued.
Could all food markets become dominated by ‘ethically certified’ products. Could all consumers learn the importance of making ethical choices in markets? Can all this somehow address the democratic deficit we are seeing in mainstream politics as well as the increasing exploitation of workers and damage to ecosystems? Could it even address the capture of regulators by powerful corporate groups? To some extent the decision is ours.