How ethical trade develops in specific ways in particular national-institutional and historical contexts remains largely unexamined. This paper analyses approaches to ethical trade in the South African wine industry through a case study of the Wine and Agricultural Ethical Trade Association (wieta). It examines factors influencing wieta, including the legacies of colonialism and apartheid, its relationship with post-apartheid restructuring and legislation, and the role of international retailers. wieta's impact within the wine industry, stakeholder perceptions, and improvements in on-farm standards are explored. The paper illustrates how these impacts are mediated by political and economic factors operating at various scales, and by the contradictions of improving working conditions within free market globalisation. Within these broader contexts, it argues that expectations of wieta are unrealistic and its role in transformation widely misunderstood. Instead, ethical trade initiatives need to be understood within their spatial, institutional, and historical contexts so as not to overestimate and undervalue their contribution to socioeconomic transformation.
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