Globalising Justice within Coffee Supply Chains? Fair Trade, Starbucks and the transformation of supply chain governance

Kate MacDonald
Publication Date: 
This paper reviews a range of initiatives that attempt transform the global institutional arrangements through which production and trade of coffee is organised and governed.
Specifically,the paper examines the Fair Trade system, Starbucks' CAFE Practices Program, and a range of wider campaigning activities around issues of 'trade justice'. These initiatives are shown to have contributed to the empowerment of marginalised workers and producers in the global coffee industry, to the extent that they have complied with the following three conditions: promoting the acceptance of expanded responsibility for tackling disempowerment among relevant decision makers in the global North; strengthening institutional capabilities necessary for these responsibilities to be effectively discharged; and enabling marginalised groups themselves to exercise some control over processes of institutional transformation. However, these initiatives have typically been designed as discrete systems of 'supply chain' governance, which has limited their ability to advance those dimensions of worker and producer well-being that are shaped by a range of state and non-state actors beyond as well as within supply chain institutions. In theory this limitation could be overcome via appropriate allocation and co-ordination of partial and shared responsibilities across a plurality of relevant decision makers. In practice, however, the failure of these initiatives to develop either transparent means of de. ning the boundaries of partial responsibilities, or institutional modalities to enable their coordination, has significantly weakened their capacity to entrench empowerment principles throughout the governance system of the coffee industry as a whole. It is concluded that the development of such conceptual and institutional models will be necessary to enable both consistency and enforceability of empowerment outcomes, and thereby to ensure that principles of justice can be realised among workers and producers throughout the global coffee industry.