Ethical Decision Making in Fair Trade Companies

Iain Davies and Andrew Crane
Publication Date: 
This paper reports on a study of ethical decision-making in a fair trade company. This can be seen to be a crucial arena for investigation since fair trade firms not only have a specific ethical mission in terms of helping growers out of poverty, but they tend to be perceived as (and are often marketed on the basis of) having an "ethical" image
Eschewing a straightforward test of extant ethical decision models, we adopt Thompson''s proposal for a more contextualist understanding rooted in ethnographic data. Our findings suggest that the fair trade mission of the firm is experienced as an over-riding ethical claim, which is often invoked to justify potentially ethically questionable decisions. Moreover, decision precedents emerge which can mean that the decision process is bypassed or hurried through. Finally we provide evidence that the significance of these precedents, and indeed, even moral intensity itself, could be actively shaped and constructed by organization members to support different, even shifting, conceptions of what is a morally acceptable decision for a fair trade company to make.