How ethical is ethical

We live in a world where Western consumers are increasingly concerned about the integrity of what they buy.

They want to know if it’s fair trade, if it’s organic and where it’s come from. But how do Fairtrade and similar certification schemes, organic labelling and geographical indications (such as ‘Idaho’ potatoes or ‘Yorkshire’ forced rhubarb) work in practice? What are the pros and cons of these ‘ethical value networks’?

Focusing on the wine, fruit and fish industries in Latin America, South Africa and Australasia, Professor of Human Geography Warwick Murray and director of Development Studies Professor John Overton are seeking answers to these and associated questions.

Their three-year project is supported by a $710,000 Marsden Fund Council grant from government funding managed by the Royal Society of New Zealand—the first time a Marsden grant has gone to research on Latin America.

Victoria’s Development Studies programme has long-term relationships with several Chilean universities and Warwick and John are partnering with two academics from the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, Latin America’s top-ranked university. Victoria postgraduate students have been researching in Chile, as well as in Argentina and Peru, and future research is planned in Columbia and Ecuador.

The concept of geographical indications originates in the French wine industry and the protection of place names such as Champagne and Bordeaux as intellectual property.

“We’re now seeing the idea of culture and place in the development field, where a place name can become a basis for local development,” says John.

“In Latin America, there is a new movement called ‘Desarrollo con Identidad’ (or Development with Identity),” says Warwick. “It’s being driven by rural development nongovernmental organisations and supported by some states—including, notably, Peru, Ecuador and Chile. They’re convinced this is the way forward because it adds value to products while protecting culture.

“The question is, how does that unfold on the ground? Who gets to decide who’s included and what is and is not ‘authentic’? In theory, it’s a nice idea, if it can be made to work and is truly democratic.”