Mission Accomplished? Balancing Market Growth and Moral Legitimation in the Fair Trade Moral Market

Benjamin Huybrechts, Helen Haugh, Bob Doherty

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How can moral market growth be achieved while maintaining moral legitimacy? We address this question in a study of how Fairtrade International (FTI), the certification organization mediating the fair trade moral market, developed product certification to expand fair trade from a niche to mainstream consumption. While FTI gradually adapted the certification criteria to allow multinational corporations to adopt fair trade standards, we find that, in parallel, FTI also managed to maintain pioneer organizations’ perception of moral legitimacy. We explain this observation by theorizing three types of ‘mission work’ that may enable market mediators to assure different types of market participants of the consistency between its founding mission and moral market growth, even when the latter appears to significantly depart from the former. First, we identify mission editing as a process in which the founding mission is trimmed and standardized to make it more compatible with moral market growth. Second, mission streamlining consists of justifying moral market growth as a way to effectively deliver this edited mission. Third, mission safeguarding relies on designing structural devices to ensure the continued perception of mission and action consistency. By illuminating the roles of mission work as a legitimacy-building capacity that can be deployed by moral market mediators, these findings contribute to the literatures on moral markets, legitimacy and mission work.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages34
JournalJournal of Management Studies
Publication statusPublished - 6 Apr 2023

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© 2023 The Authors.

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