The Contradictions of Clean: Supermarket ethical trade and African horticulture
Supermarkets in the UK appear to be shifting towards more transparent supply chain management practices. Efforts to impose such standards on African horticultural exporters, however, respond more to the particular anxieties of corporate retail management than to the concerns of the workers. The export companies and outgrowers in this sector have had to shoulder the costs of compliance with the supermarkets’ standards. The export companies have sought to resolve the cost-price squeeze by developing higher value-added product lines and out-sourcing production to cooperatives of black smallholders. If supermarkets are truly concerned about ethical sourcing, they will need to bear more of its costs, and listen to workers in the industries. Supermarkets are unlikely to initiate such reforms by themselves, however. Non-governmental organisations and the popular media should therefore continue to investigate and highlight the ambiguous ethics of supermarket sourcing policies. The supermarkets’ intense concerns about public image may yet provide powerful leverage.