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Corporate cooptation of organic and fair trade standards

  • Daniel Jaffee

    ()

  • Philip Howard
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    Recent years have seen a substantial increase in alternative agrifood initiatives that attempt to use the market to curtail the negative social and environmental effects of production and trade in a globalized food system. These alternatives pose a challenge to capital accumulation and the externalization of environmental costs by large agribusiness, trading and retail firms. Yet the success of these alternatives also makes them an inviting target for corporate participation. This article examines these dynamics through a case study of the two most significant such food system alternatives—organics and fair trade—focusing on corporate involvement in establishing and renegotiating the standards undergirding these initiatives. We compare the development of and contestation over the standards for both certified organic and certified fair trade, with particular attention to the U.S. context. We provide a brief history of their parallel processes of rapid growth and market mainstreaming. We examine claims of cooptation by movement participants, as well as the divergences and similarities between the organic and fair trade cases. Analyzing these two cases provides useful insights into the strategic approaches that corporate firms have deployed to further capital accumulation and to defuse threats to their profit margins and to status quo production, pricing, labor, trading and retailing practices. It can also offer valuable lessons regarding the most effective means of responding to such counter-reforms and of protecting or reasserting the more transformative elements at the heart of these alternative systems. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

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    File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1007/s10460-009-9231-8
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    Article provided by Springer in its journal Agriculture and Human Values.

    Volume (Year): 27 (2010)
    Issue (Month): 4 (December)
    Pages: 387-399

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    Handle: RePEc:spr:agrhuv:v:27:y:2010:i:4:p:387-399
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    1. Patricia Allen & Martin Kovach, 2000. "The capitalist composition of organic: The potential of markets in fulfilling the promise of organic agriculture," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer, vol. 17(3), pages 221-232, September.
    2. Stuart Shulman, 2003. "An experiment in digital government at the United States National Organic Program," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer, vol. 20(3), pages 253-265, September.
    3. Conner, David S., 2004. "Beyond Organic: Information Provision For Sustainable Agriculture In A Changing Market," Journal of Food Distribution Research, Food Distribution Research Society, vol. 35(01), March.
    4. Jean-Jacques Laffont & Jean Tirole, 1988. "The Politics of Government Decision-Making: A Theory of Regulatory Capture," Working papers 506, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
    5. George J. Stigler, 1971. "The Theory of Economic Regulation," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 2(1), pages 3-21, Spring.
    6. Timothy Vos, 2000. "Visions of the middle landscape: Organic farming and the politics of nature," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer, vol. 17(3), pages 245-256, September.
    7. Fetter, T. Robert & Caswell, Julie A., 2002. "Variation in Organic Standards Prior to the National Organic Program," Research Reports 25151, University of Connecticut, Food Marketing Policy Center.
    8. Laura Raynolds, 2000. "Re-embedding global agriculture: The international organic and fair trade movements," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer, vol. 17(3), pages 297-309, September.
    9. E. DuPuis & Sean Gillon, 2009. "Alternative modes of governance: organic as civic engagement," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer, vol. 26(1), pages 43-56, March.
    10. Tad Mutersbaugh, 2005. "Fighting standards with standards: harmonization, rents, and social accountability in certified agrofood networks," Environment and Planning A, Pion Ltd, London, vol. 37(11), pages 2033-2051, November.
    11. David Campbell, 2001. "Conviction seeking efficacy: Sustainable agriculture and the politics of co-optation," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer, vol. 18(4), pages 353-363, December.
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