Towards a Theory of Values-Based Labeling

Elizabeth Barham
Publication Date: 
An outline of a theory of values-based labeling as a social movement argues that it is motivated by the need to re-embed the agro-food economy in the larger social economy. A review of some basic premises of embeddedness theories derived from the work of Karl Polanyi reveals their connection to particular values-based labeling efforts.
From this perspective, values-based labeling presents itself as primarily an ethical and moral effort to counter unsustainable trends within presently existing capitalism. These labels distinguish themselves from ordinary commercial labels by a focus on process and on quality. Evaluating the transformative potential and progressive nature of values-based labeling poses a key challenge. One avenue for gauging this potential is conventions theory. This approach can be adapted to consider the decision making processes that go on within values-based labeling groups, as well as consumer decision making based on such labels, as instances of what is termed a politics of ethical judgment. The conclusion emphasizes the need for more research in this area and suggests how it could be furthered.