Article

Whose ethics? The international regulation of labour practices on South African export fruit farms


Abstract

This paper concerns private labour regulation services in the form of ethical audits. By describing the development and nature of ethical audits in the South African fruit export industry, it juxtaposes the complex relations between farm workers and farmers, shaped by a problematic history and volatile present, against a standardised code of ethics. The paper draws on my own experiences working as an auditor since 2011 in order to illustrate the difficulties of realising workers’ rights through ethically sound labour practices (in the near absence of the state) and the unintended implications of different understandings of the notion of a “farm worker” as the term oscillates between global supply chains and the workplace. The paper also explores the role of auditing and measurement in connecting local labour arrangements to global fair labour principles. It suggests that the legitimacy ascribed to ethical audits drives the moral impetus for putting ethically sanctioned fruit on international shelves, but fails to address workers’ rights in a meaningful manner.

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