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Welcome to the website of a Leverhulme Trust funded research project (reference number: RF150138) examining ethical trade within South Africa. 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 (EAC), the world’s first Fairtrade Raisin producer, who supply raisins to Traidcraft in the United Kingdom (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 Department for International Development’s (DFID) 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.

Key questions for this research project have included:

  • Whose ethics matter the most within these supply chains?
  • As geographers we ask, how significant is ‘place’ to the dynamics of ethical production and its impacts on producer communities. Quite simply, how do variations in local institutions, governance, culture and physical environment affect the outcomes of ethical schemes?
  • How do environmental and labour issues fit together within the sustainability debate?


Update – April 2014

A Workshop was held at the WWF Offices in Cape Town on 27th March, 2014 as part of the ESRC Knowledge Exchange project.

Presentations were given on themes including, ‘Ethical Consumerism in the Western Cape of South Africa’ and ‘Training and Landscape Management’.

More details of this workshop, including presentations and photographs are available in the ESRC Knowledge Exchange section.

A project summary report is now available entitled ‘Ethical Production in South Africa: Sustainable Wildflower Harvesting and Fairtrade Raisin Production’. The report is available here.

The project team are delighted to announce that further funding has been obtained under the Economic and Social Research Council’s Knowledge Exchange programme to undertake further work with the Flower Valley Conservation Trust via a project entitled ‘Developing Sustainable Wildflower Harvesting for Global Supply Chains’. Further details to follow.

A copy of the presentation delivered by Dr Alex Hughes at an International Workshop on ‘Governing Sustainable Agriculture through Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives: Participation, knowledge and networks in action’, Montpellier, 12th – 14th December, 2012 is available here.

Principal Contacts

Principal Investigator
Professor Cheryl McEwan
Reader in Human Geography
Department of Geography
Durham University
[email protected]

Dr Alex Hughes
Reader in Economic Geography
School of Geography Politics and Sociology
Newcastle University
[email protected]

Research Associate
Dr David Bek
Department of Geography
University of Newcastle
[email protected]