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Exploring issues of rigour and utility in Fairtrade impact assessment

Exploring issues of rigour and utility in Fairtrade impact assessment

Nelson, Valerie ORCID: 0000-0003-1075-0238 and Martin, Adrienne ORCID: 0000-0001-9305-7302 (2014) Exploring issues of rigour and utility in Fairtrade impact assessment. Food Chain, 4 (1). pp. 14-33. ISSN 2046-1879 (Print), 2046-1887 (Online) (doi:

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This article explores the evolution of Fairtrade impact assessment, which reflects the wider context of international development evaluation practice and debates. Appropriate designs and methods in evaluation are hotly contested, ultimately reflecting different development philosophies and values. Earlier Fairtrade impact studies were primarily case studies involving qualitative methods. As Fairtrade has grown and scrutiny from different stakeholders has increased, there has been increased demand for more rigour and criticism of studies that do not include a ‘credible’ counterfactual. More recently, there have been increasing numbers of impact evaluation studies using mixed designs as well as mixed methods. But challenges remain as to how to balance utility and rigour in Fairtrade impact assessment, because there are trade-offs in terms of skill and resource requirements and in relation to ethical issues. Yet all sustainability standards are being asked to both demonstrate impact and to inform impact. Achieving utility not only at higher levels of organizations in Fairtrade, but also for producers at the local level is a significant challenge, when ‘credibility’ in impact assessment is judged in some quarters as being the same as using counterfactual logics. In many cases the construction of a counterfactual is very difficult if not impossible. In this paper we seek to provide some practical suggestions for improving both rigour and utility.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Fairtrade, Impact assessment, Sustainability standards, Evaluation, Fair trade
Faculty / Department / Research Group: Faculty of Engineering & Science > Natural Resources Institute > Livelihoods & Institutions Department
Last Modified: 16 May 2019 17:18
Selected for GREAT 2016: None
Selected for GREAT 2017: GREAT a
Selected for GREAT 2018: None
Selected for GREAT 2019: GREAT 2

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