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

Chris Mason, Bob Doherty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)451-469
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Issue number3
Early online date1 Jan 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2016


  • fair trade
  • Social Enterprise
  • paradox

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