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Published Conference Proceedings - Paper
September 2014

Good African Coffee: Assembling a Socially Responsible Supply Chain

Onyas, W I & McEachern, M & Ryan, A 2014, Good African Coffee: Assembling a Socially Responsible Supply Chain, in: 'Corporate Responsibility Research Conference (CRRC)', University of Leeds, Leeds, England, UK. Conference details: Corporate Responsibility Research Conference (CRRC) 2014, Leeds, 15-17th September.


Coffee is one of the world’s most widely traded commodities (Giovannucci et al., 2008) and is a source of livelihood for millions of smallholders and farm workers worldwide (Ponte, 2002). As is emphasised throughout much of the corporate social responsibility (CSR) literature, a key challenge for global supply chains is to operate profitably, but at the same time, act with a socially responsible conscience (Peterson, 2012). While the market for differentiated coffees is still growing (Petit, 2007; Weber, 2007), it is acknowledged that both sustainability and specialty coffee schemes involve shorter global value chains (GVCs), which can ensure the longevity of producer-buyer relations (Lewin et al., 2004). Thus, providing a strong market rationale for those involved in the differentiated coffee supply chain. Responding to the call for research into the making of markets (Araujo et al., 2010), this research examines the sustainable and socially responsible practices occurring at the farmer-exporter segment of the Good African Company (GAC) GVC in Uganda. This paper merges two theoretical streams, the GVC framework and the market practices approach, permitting an enhanced understanding of how a differentiated coffee market and GVC is assembled. It looks into the production, processing and exchange practices occurring at this GVC link, uncovering the particularities largely obscured in GVC studies (Dicken et al., 2001; Smith et al., 2002).

The research design incorporates an ethnographic case study approach, comprising of two distinct farming communities and actors each community associates with. This methodology, which incorporates participant and non-participant observation, and writing methods, allowed the researchers to obtain direct and sustained social contact with the agents under study (Moisander and Valtonen, 2006, p.48). In addition, in-depth interviews were undertaken with farmers and other actors whose actions are significant in shaping this market. Visual and audio data was also recorded to enrich the data collected (Pink, 2013).
In contrast to other differentiated coffee companies which either pursue a sustainable or speciality focus (Baffes et al., 2005), GAC employs a differentiated market strategy, combining sustainability, social responsibility and specialty dimensions. GAC pursues core social values such as paying profitable prices to farmers, community empowerment, investing company profits into sustainable projects, and equipping farmers to improve the quality of coffee. Another example of GACs commitment to sustainability is that the company aims to obtain organic certification with the Soil Association for all its farmers by 2015 (Birch, 2011).
This research contributes to GVC studies, countering the reductionism assumed. The market practices approach undertaken permits the generation of highly specific understandings of how GVCs unfold and hold together. Moreover, this study develops an understanding of how GVCs are configured in local and sub-national contexts; an area often neglected in GVC studies (Smith et al., 2002). These details are significantly obscured in GVC research. This paper concludes by presenting implications for practice.


SEEK Members

External Authors

Winifred Ikiring Onyas

Annmarie Ryan

Publication Details

Conference Proceedings
McEachern, M & Ryan, & Onyas, eds. 2014, Corporate Responsibility Research Conference (CRRC), University of Leeds, Leeds, England, UK.

Conference Details
Corporate Responsibility Research Conference (CRRC) 2014, Leeds, 15-17th September