Farmers, Organics, & the Ethics of Industry Organizations

Over at my Food-Ethics blog, I just posted a short piece called “Caution on ‘Green’ Claims for Organics”. It’s about a suggestion, from the head of a UK farming organization, for organic farmers to be cautious about claims that their produce is, categorically, more environmentally-friendly than non-organic foods.

The interesting thing from the point of view of adversarial ethics has to do with the role of industry associations. Industry associations are a mechanism by which businesses that would normally compete against each other engage in certain forms of cooperation. The catch is that some forms of in-group cooperation are socially beneficial (or at least innocuous) while others are pernicious. For example, when companies cooperate on standard-setting (so that, e.g., competing models of computers can all use the same peripherals), that’s a good thing. When they cooperate on prices, that’s called price-fixing, and it’s bad for consumers (and is illegal in most places). In the case cited above, the organization is calling for a stop to in-fighting over the virtues (in the strong, moralized sense of that word) of various products. Whether that’s socially beneficial depends, in part, on the significance of the moral debate that the organization is hoping to stifle.

2 responses to “Farmers, Organics, & the Ethics of Industry Organizations

  1. You say when companies cooperate on things like standard-setting, that produces a social good. But what about in cases where their cooperation to set a standard has the effect of producing lower (or at least different) standards than consumers would want, and lower than private standard-setters (certifiers?) would set? Some argue, for example, that corporate participation in setting Fair Trade standards has led to increased focus on individual worker wages and product quality, with less attention to the social conditions of worker communities, as was originally envisioned in the alternative trade movement. Is this the market taking over (consumers don’t really care about worker communities), or corporations preempting undesirable standards? Or a mix of both?

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