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Durham University

Research & business

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Publication details for Professor Cheryl McEwan

Hughes, A., McEwan, C. & Bek, D. (2015). Mobilizing the Ethical Consumer in South Africa. Geoforum 67: 148-157.

Author(s) from Durham


This paper presents a critical engagement with current initiatives for ethically-labeled goods in South Africa, thus offering an intervention in a literature on ethical consumption that has previously prioritized the global North. Through an interview-based methodology supported by focus groups in the Western Cape, the paper attends specifically to the strategies shaping recent forms of ethical consumption in South Africa on the part of business and civil society. Campaigns and strategies associated with three of the most prominent ethical labeling initiatives in South Africa—Proudly South African, Fairtrade Label South Africa and the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI)—are evaluated. Barnett et al.’s (2011: 90) notion of “mobilizing the ethical consumer” is brought into conversation with ethical consumption literature on local embeddedness in order to assess the ways in which the organizations responsible for these initiatives combine globalizing business and political networks of responsibility with local institutions and values in South Africa. The role played by the discursive construction of a growing South African ‘middle class’ is also acknowledged as part of the process of encouraging ethical consumption on the part of these actors. In conclusion, it is suggested that understanding ethical consumption in South Africa, as elsewhere, requires sensitivity to both transnational networks of globalizing responsibility and localized expressions of ethical consumption.