Essential Reading: Ethical Supply Chains

from Carla D. Martin, PhD

A number of recently published works reflect diverse scientific, social, and economic perspectives on ethics in supply chains.
  • In Boston Review’s recent forum “The New Nature,” a group of thinkers considers human influence on the environment and the significance of the food movement in defining a “possible model of the next politics of nature.”
  • Open Democracy’s latest policy debate asks several scholars and practitioners to answer the question: “Can corporations be trusted to tackle modern day slavery?
  • Earlier this year, my colleague Kathryn Sampeck and I synthesized the history of slavery, colonization, and inequality in relation to chocolate, and examined the influence of this history on the contemporary quality and ethics-focused fine cacao and chocolate industry.
Ethical questions abound throughout food production globally, though we’re often best served by first investigating the situation at home.
  • For a better understanding of café and barista labor in the United States, Saru Jayaraman’s writing on precarious tipped labor in food service is a must read, as is Patrick Abatiell’s response on the limits of entrusting labor reform to restaurant customers and owners.
  • Margaret Gray’s ethnographic work with exploited farm laborers in the Hudson Valley challenges us to more carefully consider the politics of buying local and supporting small farms.
  • Stories and images of farmers of color from Natasha Bowens highlight the intersectional voices too often neglected in our food and agriculture discussions.
  • Lest we all rush to tell the stories of farmers and farm laborers for them, this cautionary poston the politics of representation in development work covers some important principles that should also be applied to storytelling and marketing in specialty food.
Supply chains are complicated. The ethical solutions that specialty coffee is looking for aren’t easy to come by. But there’s no reason to balk at the hard work necessary. Just this week Jonathan Latham offered his thoughts on why the food movement, for all its messy complexity, is unstoppable. The more we learn, the more we can do.
If you’d like to read more on these topics together, or if you want related film, podcast, and event recommendations, connect with me on Twitter at @carladmartin.

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