Project resources
Workshop info brief

Grabs, J., & Carodenuto, S. (2021). Traders as sustainability governance actors in global food supply chains: A research agendaBusiness Strategy and the Environment, early view, doi: 10.1002/bse.2686

Abstract: Corporate actors are rapidly gaining ground as nontraditional forms of authority that shape sustainability governance efforts in global food supply chains. This paper highlights the critical, but underresearched role of traders—companies whose core business lies in the movement and exchange of agricultural commodities between producers and manufacturers—in linking corporate sustainability ambitions to on-the-ground impacts. Drawing on a systematic analysis of the major transnational corporations trading cocoa, coffee, and palm oil, we present advantages and potential pitfalls of relying on traders as implementers of sustainability governance and outline a future research agenda that focuses on producer-level impacts, changes in supply chain organization and power dynamics, and traders’ interactions with state and other nonstate actors. At the intersection of supply chain management, political economy, geography, and global governance, research on traders as key sustainability governance actors also provides novel opportunities for interdisciplinary work and stakeholder engagement.

Link to read-only version of the final article: Click here. Contact us for the PDF!

Download the preprint version (version submitted for publication) by clicking below:

Silverman, S., Carodenuto, S. & Grabs, J. (2023). Adventures in Transdisciplinary Translation: Co-creating and Vetting a Novel Research Agenda on Trading Companies as Sustainability Governance ActorsSAGE Publications Inc., doi: 10.4135/9781529628371

Abstract: This case study is based on the co-creation of a transdisciplinary research agenda assessing agricultural commodity traders as sustainability governance actors in tropical food production. We organized several online and in-person opportunities for researchers and practitioners in the agri-food trading sector to meet and discuss in order to gather input from several disciplines and industry representatives on our proposed research agenda and to kick-start transdisciplinary research projects. We used a Delphi-inspired methodology to collect transdisciplinary and geographically heterogenous expert insight on the cocoa, coffee, and palm oil sectors. Our methods piece discusses learnings and best practice advice gathered from pursuing this project in a challenging environment shaped by COVID-19-related travel restrictions and gives insights on how to approach practice-informed research on questions of global relevance.

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In the media

05.03.2021: Sophia’s cocoa research and our research program were featured in this CBC ‘On the Coast’ radio segment.

01.03.2021: Our research, and especially Sophia’s work on cocoa, was highlighted in the article “Can companies make chocolate more sustainable? One researcher is trying to find out” in Canada’s National Observer.

09.10.2020: We were invited to present our emerging research agenda on traders as sustainability governance actors on the Innovation Forum podcast and discuss how commodity trader companies are influencing and helping deliver brand supply chain commitments. The recording can be found here.

Other useful resources

Here we aim to gather other resources that might be of interest to actors working on or with mid-stream companies and their sustainability activities. Contact us if you are unable to access full-length texts.

Articles and reports

Borrella, I., Mataix, C., & Carrasco-Gallego, R. (2015). Smallholder farmers in the speciality coffee industry: Opportunities, constraints and the businesses that are making it possible. IDS Bulletin, 46(3), 29–44.

Freidberg, S. (2017). Big food and little data: The slow harvest of corporate food supply chain sustainability initiatives. Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 107(6), 1389–1406.

Grimm, J. H., Hofstetter, J. S., & Sarkis, J. (2016). Exploring sub-suppliers’ compliance with corporate sustainability standards. Journal of Cleaner Production, 112, 1971–1984.

Murphy, S., Burch, D., & Clapp, J. (2012). Cereal secrets. The world’s largest grain traders and global agriculture. Nairobi: Oxfam Research Reports.

Rosenberg, D., Eckstein, M., & Brett, C. (2009). Traders as agents of sustainability in coffee and cocoa supply chains. IDH Sustainable Trading booklets.

Sancha, C., Gimenez, C., & Sierra, V. (2016). Achieving a socially responsible supply chain through assessment and collaboration. Journal of Cleaner Production, 112, 1934–1947.

Serdijn, M., Kolk, A., & Fransen, L. (2020). Uncovering missing links in global value chain research—And implications for corporate social responsibility and international business. Critical Perspectives on International Business.

Villena, V. H., & Gioia, D. A. (2018). On the riskiness of lower-tier suppliers: Managing sustainability in supply networks. Journal of Operations Management, 64, 65–87.

Wilhelm, M. M., Blome, C., Bhakoo, V., & Paulraj, A. (2016). Sustainability in multi-tier supply chains: Understanding the double agency role of the first-tier supplier. Journal of Operations Management, 41, 42–60.


Trase.Earth is a tool that maps agricultural commodity supply chains and uncovers the links between consumer countries via trading companies to the places of production in unprecedented detail. By 2021, Trase aims to cover over 70% of the total traded volume of major forest risk commodities, including soy, beef, palm oil, timber, pulp and paper, coffee, cocoa and aquaculture.

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