Cleaning up Down South: Supermarkets, Ethical Trade and African Horticulture

Susanne Freidberg
Publication Date: 
Supermarkets in Great Britain have joined the country's Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) in order to demonstrate their commitment to social welfare and environmental standards in their supply chains. They have been particularly concerned to enforce ethical as well as food safety standards in the African horticultural industry, which has historically depended on cheap labour to produce high-value vegetables.
The supermarkets' 'ethical turn' appears to signal an important change from forms of commodity fetishism that obscured exploitative relations of food production in the South. This paper, however, argues that in an era of high food anxiety for both retailers and consumers, ethical standards are themselves fetishized. It also shows how the effort to impose such standards on Zambia's horticultural export industry resembles the colonial 'hygienic mission', and faces a similar contradiction.