Consumer campaigning in the 21st Century – Rob Harrison – Food Thinkers

Consumer campaigning in the 21st Century – Rob Harrison – Food Thinkers

Rob Harrison on consumer campaigning in the 21st Century

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.

About the speaker

Rob was one of three founder directors of the Ethical Consumer Research Association in 1987. Since that date he has worked as a consultant to NGOs (including Oxfam, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace) on engaging consumers in their campaigns, as an advisor to government departments (including those in the Belgium, Austria and Brazil) on encouraging the use of ethical consumption and procurement for social and environmental goals, as a consultant to consumer organisations (including groups in Spain and Hungary) on researching the CSR performance of companies, and to companies (including the Co-operative Bank, and Lush Cosmetics) on developing world-leading ethical policies and implementing them in practice.

He has edited and contributed to academic work in this area including the 2005 Sage book ‘The Ethical Consumer’ and the 1997 Routledge ‘Green Building Handbook’. He has also been an editor of Ethical Consumer magazine since its inception in 1989. In addition Rob has spoken widely in the press, on radio and on TV, and also to universities and campaign groups around the world on the importance of facilitating of ethical consumption.

Rob also joined the FRC for a Food Bites to give us a snapshot of what the current issues in the food system are and what civil society organisations and academics could be doing to work towards solutions.

Explore other Food Thinkers seminars

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.