Accepted Paper:

Digitalizing Africa: Certification Regimes and Ecomodernist Fantasies in the Kenyan Tea Industry  


Matthew Archer (Copenhagen Business School)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyzes the emerging discourse about digital technologies among corporate sustainability and sustainable development practitioners in the context of certified Kenyan tea.

Paper long abstract:

There is an emerging discourse within multinational corporations, sustainability standards organizations, certification bodies, and development agencies that sees digital technologies as a promising way to address social and environmental concerns in the Kenyan tea industry. Blockchain, for instance, is seen as promoting traceability and is described by proponents as democratic and transparent. Surveillance drones are described as a way to monitor labor conditions on farms and check for violations of environmental regulations regarding pesticide and fertilizer use, while online trading platforms are being embraced as a way to mitigate price volatility.

This paper draws on interviews with people working in multinational corporations, sustainability standards organizations, and certification bodies, focusing specifically on the Kenyan tea industry. It describes the way African commodity chains are seen as poorly governed, and how new technologies such as blockchain and digital trading platforms are seen as the most promising solution to what Western analysts regard as social and environmental unsustainability. I situate this discourse in two intertwined political economic trajectories: ecological modernism (and its fixation on technological fixes) and (post)colonial attempts to control the flow of resources and capital into and out of sub Saharan Africa.

Panel Anth45
Ethical certification between traceability and transparency: the future of digital technologies in Africa