New End Markets, Supermarket Expansion, and Shifting Social Standards

J. Pickles, S. Barrientos, P. Knorringa

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In recent years, Northern supermarket chains have internationalized rapidly and Southern supermarket chains have expanded their footprint in emerging markets. As they have done so, questions have arisen about the impact of such supermarkets and the extent of consumer demand for social standards (labour standards and fair trade). While standards have been more (or less) codified in their Northern counterparts over recent decades, it remains an empirical question whether –and if so how—they will take hold in the rapidly expanding markets of the global South. The paper analyses the extent to which social standards are applied by Northern lead firms as well as regional supermarkets operating in the global South. It questions the view that Southern consumers and civil society actors are uninterested in social standards, and suggests a more differentiated and complex process driving their selective application in the global South. Value chain concepts of governance help analyse how lead firms are shifting from regimes of control and coordination towards practices of normalization and convergence. We draw on the notion of multi-polar governance to explore emerging pressures for social standards extended to Southern consumer markets and differential channels for convergence emerging across the global North and South. Three case studies highlight diverse channels of convergence on social standards: (i) led by transnational retailers; (ii) led by standards initiatives; and (iii) linking private with public governance. These illustrate that socially responsible consumption is only one element in more complex multi-polar governance processes that reveal trends towards both divergence and convergence in the drivers of social standards within emerging economies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1284-1301
JournalEnvironment and Planning A
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 16 Feb 2016


  • Supermarkets, global value chains, production networks, Southern markets responsible consumers

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global Development Institute


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