Arbitrating Risk through Moral Values: The Case of Kenyan Fair Trade

Dolan, Catherine (2008) Arbitrating Risk through Moral Values: The Case of Kenyan Fair Trade. Research in Economic Anthropology, 28. pp. 271-296.


This chapter examines the Kenyan Fairtrade flower as a site of value making, one that provides a constructive lens into how moral obligation and ethical accountability are shaped by risk perceptions and become visible through the process of transnational commodity exchange. Specifically, it argues that while Fairtrade labeling responds to the risks of corporate capitalism through consumption practices predicated on extending care and compassion to distant communities, it is also embedded within commodity chains that advance liberal ethics as a mode of “governmentality” over African producers. These ethics are associated with new technologies of information gathering, regulation, and surveillance that simultaneously assuage consumers’ anxieties and channel their sympathy-based humanism into new forms of ethical normativity. Fairtrade's relational ethic, for example, is accompanied by a private regulatory assemblage that authorizes certain knowledge forms, thereby circumscribing the social and economic rights available as well as the form of personhood through which they can be claimed. Thus, although Fairtrade is cast as morally unproblematic, it can also serve as a mechanism through which specific interests are naturalized and circulated through a benevolent vernacular of economic and social rights.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Fairtrade; Kenya; ethical business
Subject(s): Retail
Centre: Oxford Institute of Retail Management
Faculty of Marketing
Date Deposited: 26 Oct 2011 13:22
Last Modified: 23 Oct 2015 14:05

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