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The eras and participants of fair trade: an industry structure/stakeholder perspective on the growth of the fair trade industry

Iain A. Davies (Cranfield School of Management, Cranfield University, Cranfield, Bedfordshire, UK.)

Corporate Governance

ISSN: 1472-0701

Article publication date: 14 August 2007



This paper aims to investigate the increased mass‐marketing in the fair trade industry to provide a robust analysis of the industry, participants and growth for use both as a starting‐point for researchers in this field and as a case study for readers with an interest in any ethical trading initiative.


Utilizing data from a longitudinal exploratory research project, participant observation from two organizations and in‐depth interviews from a total of 15 organizations are combined to build a strong theory grounded in the data.


The paper provides insight into the nature of participants and industry structure in fair trade over time. Four distinct eras are identified which reflect both current literature and the practitioners' perspective. The four eras can be split into three extant eras – the solidarity era, niche‐market era, and mass‐market era, and the fourth – the institutionalisation era – depicts participants' beliefs about the future for the industry.

Research limitations/implications

The three principal theoretical contributions are the definitions which are provided for the different eras of the market's progression, the view of industry structure and the newly defined participants from both the commodity and under‐considered craft markets.

Practical implications

Practical contributions are provided since the paper offers a holistic view of the fair trade market, so acting as a starting‐point for those new to fair trade.


This paper provides deep empirically grounded theory from which fair trade research can grow. It also provides future insights from participants in the industry, advancing current theory.



Davies, I.A. (2007), "The eras and participants of fair trade: an industry structure/stakeholder perspective on the growth of the fair trade industry", Corporate Governance, Vol. 7 No. 4, pp. 455-470.



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Copyright © 2007, Emerald Group Publishing Limited