Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 136, Issue 3, pp 451–469 | Cite as

A Fair Trade-off? Paradoxes in the Governance of Fair-trade Social Enterprises

  • Chris Mason
  • Bob Doherty


This paper explores how fair trade social enterprises (FTSEs) manage paradoxes in stakeholder-oriented governance models. We use narrative accounts from board members, at governance events and board documents to report an exploratory study of paradoxes in three FTSEs which are partly farmer-owned. Having synthesized the key social enterprise governance literature and framed it alongside the broader paradox theory, we used narratives to explore how tensions are articulated, how they can be applied within an adapted paradox framework, and how governance actors seek to mitigate paradoxes. The paper contributes to current debates in social enterprise scholarship concerning hybridity (Pache and Santos, Acad Manag Rev 35(3):455–476, 2010; in Institutional logics in action, Part B (Research in the sociology of organizations), 2012), hybrid organizing (Battilana and Lee, Acad Manag Ann 8(1):397–441, 2014) and operational tensions (Smith et al., Bus Eth Q 23(3):407–442, 2013) by illustrating empirically how the central social/enterprise paradox manifests in FTSEs governance arrangements. We build on the paradox categories proposed by Lüscher and Lewis (Acad Manag J 51(2):221–240, 2008) and adapted in Smith et al. (Bus Eth Q 23(3):407–442, 2013) by developing a recursive model of legitimacy-seeking governance processes, conceptualizing how boards seek to mitigate, but not necessarily resolve, paradoxes.


Social enterprise Governance Paradox Tensions Fair trade 



The authors would like to offer their thanks to the following colleagues or their advice during the writing of this article: Jo Barraket, Ben Huybrechts, Lester Johnson, John Simmons, and the three anonymous reviewers who each provided invaluable feedback and advice.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Business and Law, Centre for Social Impact SwinburneSwinburne University of TechnologyMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.The York Management SchoolUniversity of YorkYorkUK

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