Fair trade and reflexive democracy

Janet Dine*, Kirsteen Shields

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper explores the extent to which the fair trade and ethical trading movements can be a way of influencing trading policies and, more specifically, to what extent that influence can be said to be democratic in nature. It is argued that the ethical trading movements have the potential to assist in democratisation and that the debate should concentrate on the extent to which they should be recognised as part of mainstream political thinking and legitimated by affording them a role in political decision making. Adopting a relational approach to democracy, the authors ask whether a failure to integrate social movements as significant trust networks has contributed to a process of de-democratisation in developed states. The paper goes on to reconsider the parameters of democracy theory (i) by reconsidering the central role of the state in democracy to suggest an evolving interpretation of democracy that focuses on processes between civil society and centres of power, and not necessarily processes between civil society and the state, and (ii) by examining the evolution of democracy theorisation to question the marginalisation of socio-economic democracy in favour of institutional democracy. The authors suggest that the insistence on institutional democracy derives from a nationalist, state-centric conception of democracy and that the socio-economic element of democracy is now determined by global governance as opposed to state governance. On this basis, the paper considers whether the fair trade movement and other ethical trading movements may hold democratic value as a form of mediation between civil society and corporations as today's centres of power.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)163-186
Number of pages24
JournalEuropean Business Organization Law Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2008


  • Corporate governance
  • Democracy
  • Ethical trade
  • Fair trade
  • Globalisation
  • Governance
  • Social movements


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