Sustainability standards and certifications increasingly represent multi-billion-dollar brands that partner with corporate firms. We employ the case of South Africa's Rooibos tea industry to analyze the impacts of this shift. Examining five sustainability initiatives, our research focuses on small-scale farmers and the power dynamics shaping their involvement. The Rooibos initiatives engaged multiple approaches, but none realized sustainable outcomes. Third-party and corporate efforts exposed producers to risk and reified dependency, industry actions did not achieve intended goals, and a shared leadership project failed to address material barriers to participation. Yet examples of good practice offer insight into the types of policies needed to improve outcomes. These include shifting from a hierarchical to a relational orientation by reducing certification costs, extending support services, and ensuring inclusivity in planning and governance. We conclude by arguing that markets are a perilous tool for development. Sustainable trade systems nevertheless illustrate the promise of market-based sustainability, as these are providing marginal groups with a platform to demand more equitable arrangements.
The Promise and Perils of Market-based Sustainability
Jennifer Keahey is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Senior Sustainability Scholar at Arizona State University. Her work examines the power dynamics of sustainable development, with particular focus on the experiences of marginal groups. She uses qualitative and action research methods to clarify hidden barriers to sustainability, offering insight into policy and practice. Broadly interested in emerging economies, Keahey has conducted fieldwork in South Africa, Ghana, and Latvia. Her work has been published in Globalizations (2016), Handbook of Research on Fair Trade (2015), and The Routledge Companion to Alternative Organization (2014).
Douglas L. Murray is Professor of Sociology and Co-director of the Center for Fair and Alternative Trade at Colorado State University. In addition to publishing three books and dozens of scholarly articles on agricultural development and social change, he has coedited the widely cited study Fair Trade: The Challenges of Transforming Globalization (2007). He has been twice awarded grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and has been a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar. For over four decades, Murray has advised governments, development agencies, and others on agricultural development, social justice, and sustainability.
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Jennifer Keahey, Douglas L. Murray; The Promise and Perils of Market-based Sustainability. Sociology of Development 1 June 2017; 3 (2): 143–162. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/sod.2017.3.2.143
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