Chapter 5 discussion questions

Social Justice as Fairness in the Global Food System

Michael Heasman and Ralph Early

This chapter assesses activities designed to help reassure consumers about a company’s ethical and environmental credentials within a broader conceptual framework of ‘fairness’ or equity throughout food supply chains. Heasman and Early argue that a notion of fairness might be a more useful analytical lens to help consumers to ‘re-connect’ to their food through their purchasing and consumption practices. The broader concept of fairness and equity throughout product lifecycles can be a powerful analytical tool with which to hold corporations accountable for activities across their supply chain, including the consequences of food industry actions as they operate in globalized markets and through complex business networks. The reconceptualization of fairness and equity reveals the range of factors which affect the lifecycle of commodified foods and impact consumers in surprising ways. These might include animal welfare practices, the use of particular technologies such as biotechnology, the dysfunction of food systems in relation to under- and over-nutrition and diet-related ill-heath, food insecurity, labor practices and human rights, in addition to considering notions of ‘fair’ trade and the deepening environmental crisis facing the future of food production, and not simply the more efficient managing of environmental resources.



  1. What are the key challenges in the global food system today?
  2. What are some of the benefits and problems with top-down approaches to reforming the global food system?
  3. How do approaches to the global food system based on the idea of social justice as fairness differ from top-down approaches?
  4. How effective are existing Fair Trade models in addressing problems with the global food system?
  5. What are the different roles that NGOs and food movements might play in reforming the global food system?