When Ethical Labelling Fails

Tuesday, 28th July 2009 at 11:52 UTC 1 comment

When it came in to effect, the Kimberley Process was hailed as a triumph in the struggle to stop Africa’s mineral, and specifically diamond, wealth on internal conflict and human rights abuses. Overseen by the UN, it is possibly one of the most monumental and well established “Ethical Consumerism” labelling schemes that there is. Sadly, as the BBC recently reported, all is not going well for Kimberley Certification.

The process basically works by certifying each diamond and its derivatives as having not been mined from sites that are complicit in child-slavery and the funding of armed conflict. The scheme has had success, and is a staple of the Development Studies curriculum. But that crime is shifting as the market for “conflict” or “blood” diamonds dries up, and the criteria are failing to keep up. Global Witness is an NGO often credited with lobbying for the Kimberley Process to be created, and now they’re desperate to see it implemented properly.

In a sense, this reflects something of the downfall of the Ethical Labelling movement; it all relies on the kind of transparency that business is very much not in favour of. As a business, your supply chain isn’t something you naturally want to shout about, unless you have something special to say.

Of course, policing something as contentious as the Blood Diamond trade, where workers are actually slaves, and not just slaves to unjust economics, is going to be more difficult. But as big companies like Cadbury come on board with FairTrade, what guarantees can we hope to see that the system won’t be watered down for their benefit.

I’ve long argued that a second fair trade logo system should be introduced to deal with some of the disparities whereby big companies doing the bare minimum are getting the same credibility as small companies trying to do much more. But a tougher version could also pressure the mainstream to keep going with reforms. Sadly though, that’s unlikely to succeed.

This isn’t to say that the logo is a bad way of seeking justice, and indeed, in a world of Swooshs and Archs, its a great sign that people are using logos to fight back. But it would be too easy for them to become more PR than actual justice.


Entry filed under: Africa, Development, Marketing, Peace.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Patrick Dodd  |  Wednesday, 29th July 2009 at 10:30 UTC

    Hi Graham,

    I agree with you that ethical labelling is failing the consumer. Though I’m not sure that adding a second fair trade label to the mix is the answer. I also wrote a very similar post on my blog on how the proliferation of ethical labels is degrading the value of the Fairtrade mark. You can find it here – http://blog.shared-interest.com/?p=302




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