Stewards of Virtue?: The Ethical Dilemma of CSR in African Agriculture

Dolan, Catherine and Blowfield, Michael (2008) Stewards of Virtue?: The Ethical Dilemma of CSR in African Agriculture. Development and Change, 39 (1). pp. 1-23.


In recent years companies have responded to increasingly powerful consumer politics by expanding the scope of corporate social responsibility (CSR) to include ethical trade. This article examines the ethic embedded in and promulgated through ethical trade by use of a case study of African agriculture. Building on recent conceptualizations of globalization, neoliberalism and anthropological analyses of the audit economy, the authors put forward three inter-related arguments. First, that there is a clear, if largely unacknowledged, ethic that positions ethical trade as an inherently neo-utilitarian response to the economic and political imperatives of globalization, with important implications for its intended beneficiaries in the South and advocates in the North. Second, that this ethic is at the core of a form of governmentality that advances the project of neoliberalism, not by force but rather through the technologies and embedded norms of voluntary regulation, resulting in a model of governance that is fundamentally constrained by structurally embedded limitations. And third, that attempts to remove these limitations may be less likely to achieve the democratic, empowering outcomes of ethical trade's proponents than to serve the interests of the internationally dispersed ‘stewards of virtue’ that grant ethical trade its legitimacy.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: International trade; Globalization; Social responsibility of business; Corporate culture
Subject(s): Retail
Centre: Oxford Institute of Retail Management
Faculty of Marketing
Date Deposited: 11 Feb 2012 17:19
Last Modified: 23 Oct 2015 14:06

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