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Durham University

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Ethical Production in South Africa: Advancing a Cultural Economy Approach

A research project of the Department of Geography, part of the Economy & Culture research group.


This 30 month project, which is jointly based within the Geography Departments of Durham and Newcastle Universities, seeks to evaluate the dynamics of ethical trade within international agri-supply chains emanating from South Africa. Two case studies of ethical production have been the focus of the research. One of these is the Eksteenskuil Agricultural Co-operative, the world's first Fairtrade Raisin producer, who supply raisins to Traidcraft in the UK. The second case study focuses upon 'sustainable wild flower harvesting' on the Agulhas Plain, which has successfully tapped into international markets including Marks and Spencer in the UK. Beyond these two case studies the research has looked at broader issues around the rollout of ethical trade in South Africa.

South Africa is a particularly fertile location for research into ethical trade. The lifting of sanctions generated huge interest as consumers sought to support the 'New South Africa' in the post-apartheid era. Indeed, Traidcraft's relationship with the Eksteenskuil raisin farmers was generated out of this context. Equally, apartheid legacies have lingered on, for example in terms of labour practices, thus posing a reputational risk for retailers when sourcing commodities. A whole host of ethically focused initiatives have emerged in response to these opportunities and challenges in the last decade or so. For example, the South African wine industry was a pilot for DFID's Ethical Trading Initiative programme leading to the formation of the Wine Industry Ethical Trade Initiative (Wieta); the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative (BWI) has led to more than 100,000 hectares of land on wine estates being set aside for conservation purposes and, of course, national policy on Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) sets a very specific context for ethical production. Thus, the South African context offers fascinating opportunities to think through debates about ethical economies.

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