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Learning to trade ethically: Knowledgeable capitalism, retailers and contested commodity chains

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Alexandra Hughes


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This paper explores what happens when corporations engage explicitly in practices of organisational learning not only to become better capitalists by generating ever more innovative ways of maintaining profitability, improving competitiveness and maximising shareholder value, but also to become more responsible corporate citizens in their business practices. In particular, I evaluate the ways in which UK food and clothing retailers are learning to develop their ethical trading programmes in response to political calls for more responsible trading. Thrift's [Thrift, N., 2005. Knowing Capitalism. Sage, London] notion of 'knowledgeable, or soft, capitalism' is adopted to understand the creative and experimental ways in which retailers and their mentors (ethical consultancies, social auditors and multi-stakeholder organisations) are learning to trade ethically. Two specific examples of formal learning spaces experienced by UK food and clothing retailers are examined: (i) training courses on social auditing and (ii) corporate awareness-raising courses on ethical trade. These courses are shown to encompass various participative and affective practices of learning. And while particular limits to the success of these courses are argued to exist, ethical learning practices discussed in this paper are nonetheless suggested to play a role in the making of new, albeit moderate, forms of responsible capitalism. © 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Hughes A

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Geoforum

Year: 2006

Volume: 37

Issue: 6

Pages: 1008-1020

Print publication date: 01/11/2006

ISSN (print): 0016-7185

ISSN (electronic): 1872-9398


DOI: 10.1016/j.geoforum.2006.02.002


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