Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2013

Document Type



International Affairs

First Advisor

Prof. David S. Brown


Fair Trade and Organic initiatives both represent new forms of social and ethical regulation that attempt to charge a higher price for a more ethically or environmentally beneficial product. Started by activist movements, each initiative has seen increased brand visibility and product awareness as their products fill new consumer niches for ethical or environmentally-beneficial products. As a result of each initiatives success in expensive niche markets, corporate and industry actors have partnered with these initiatives to manufacture ethical products. However, partnership with corporate and industry actors runs the risk of diluting the initiatives to little more than conventional production, as corporate actors share fundamentally different values and priorities than the activists who created each movement. As a result, both Fair Trade and Organic have faced pressure from corporate actors to dilute their initiatives to little more than conventional production. Since Fair Trade is privately regulated and Organic is publicly regulated, it appears that the nature of private and public regulatory bodies could cause them to respond to pressures from corporate actors differently. Using the theoretical concepts of regulatory Capture and the Life Cycle Theory of Regulatory Commissions, I will present controversial standards within each initiative and determine that Fair Trade has been captured while Organic has been able to effectively represent the interests of its diverse stakeholders. I will conclude with a policy recommendation for Fair Trade to become a more legitimate regulatory body and more effectively represent the values of both activists and corporate actors.