Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 88, Issue 3, pp 583–600 | Cite as

Humanising Business Through Ethical Labelling: Progress and Paradoxes in the UK

  • Susanne Hartlieb
  • Bryn Jones


Labelling schemes are practical arrangements aimed at making ‘ethical’ products widely available and visible. They are crucial to expanded development of ethical markets and hence to the addition of moral dimensions to the normally amoral behaviour linking consumers and retail and production businesses. The study reported here attempts to assess the contribution of UK ethical, social and environmental certification and labelling initiatives to ‘sustainable’ consumption and production. The research sought to assess the overall potential of initiatives to inject human values into the supply-distribution chains, through a qualitative survey of 15 of the 26 main UK initiatives: in social justice, animal welfare and environmental sustainability from the agriculture, food processing, timber, aquaculture, textiles and personal care sectors. By analysing the basic characteristics and concepts of these labels and investigating the emergence of labelling initiatives, we assess whether labels help add an ethical dimension, or whether, in some respects, they also reduce such missions to the technical management of adding only another ‘utility’ to a product. The analysis assesses whether the gradual ‘mainstreaming’ of ethical initiatives such as ‘Fairtrade’ risks subsuming ethical goals within business participants’ competitive and profit-oriented logics. However, the contrasting perspectives revealed between rival labelling initiatives show that the scope and functions of labelling projects go beyond the manifest ones of information communication between consumers and producer and actually introduce elements of socio-political regulation. These are essential for more sustainable and ethical business practices and are an integral part of any humanisation of business involvement.


ethical labelling corporate responsibility ethical business civil society regulation Fairtrade 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Business & Community Programme, Department of Social & Policy SciencesUniversity of BathBathU.K.

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