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Speaker Series: Christine Parker, Melbourne Law School

  • When: May 1, 2019, 12–1:30 pm
  • Where: ABF Woods Conference Room, 750 N. Lake Shore Drive, 4th Floor, Lakeside, Chicago IL 60611

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Labelling for Sustainable, Healthy, Fair Food Systems? A Critical Evaluation of the Democratic, Transformative Governance Capacity of Food Labelling 

Consumers in Australia, the US, UK and EU are encouraged to “vote with their fork” and “say no” to unhealthy, unsustainable or unfair food. Social movement activists and social entrepreneurs also use the creation and contestation of label claims as a mechanism for transparency, debate and transformation of the whole food chain. This talk critically investigates the role of food labelling and its contestation as a mechanism for regulating business, governments and citizens-communities in relation to healthy, sustainable, fair food systems. The talk will draw on the results of a three year empirical socio-legal research project examining higher animal welfare labelling in Australia in comparative context, and a parallel project on health and fair trade claims on ‘superfood’ marketing. The study suggests that the creation and contestation of food label claims can increase the range of voices and actors involved in governing the food system thus expanding democratic capacity via networked governance. Yet it also tends to over-simplify, de-contextualise and sentimentalise single issues, decreasing the potential for holistic consideration of multiple complex ethical, environmental, health and welfare dimensions of food production and supply. Labelling reforms, like other market-based governance mechanisms tend to create, at best, only small incremental improvements in business practice and public policy. The paper concludes by asking whether there are possibilities for progressive and creative activists, businesses and government agencies to use the politics of food labelling to incrementally build capacity for more transformative reform of governance and business practices in the future?

Photo and Bio courtesy of the University of Melbourne

Professor Christine Parker, Professor at Melbourne Law School, The University of Melbourne and Visiting Fellow, Animal Law and Policy Program, Harvard Law School (Spring 2019) joined Melbourne Law School again in February 2015 after several years away. She has previously held positions at Griffith University, University of New South Wales, the Australian National University and Monash University. She holds a BA (Hons) and LLB (Hons) from The University of Queensland and a PhD from the Australian National University.

Professor Parker has written, researched and consulted widely on how and why business comply with legal, social and environmental responsibilities, what difference regulatory enforcement makes and how businesses can work with lawyers and compliance professionals to build internal corporate social responsibility systems that work. Her work has been published in academic journals and used in policy making and enforcement strategy. Her books include The Open Corporation (2002) on corporate social responsibility, business compliance systems and democratic accountability of companies; and Explaining Compliance(2011, with Vibeke Nielsen), an edited collection of the leading practice and policy oriented empirical research on how and why businesses do and do not comply with the law.

Professor Parker’s current research focuses on the politics, ethics and regulation of food. She is working on an ARC Discovery Project grant with Dr Gyorgy Scrinis and Dr Rachel Carey (in the Faculty of Veterinary and Agrcultural Science) to examine the possibilities for food labeling to increase democratic engagement with and governance of the food system using free range and higher animal welfare labeling of eggs, chicken meat and pork products as a case study. She is also researching and writing on misleading health claims on superfood labeling as part of another ARC Discovery Project on the regulation of anti-ageing treatments. Prof Parker has also been writing on pesticide regulatory policy and enforcement and sustainability issues.

Christine has a deep interest in both conceptualizing and communicating how law and regulation can help individuals and especially businesses live more sustainably well in our ecological systems. She is developing an academic research project in this area and has helped develop and show a live multi-media eco-music performance, Music for a Warming World, on our individual, social and political responses to climate change.

Christine teaches legal ethics and is the co-author of the influential legal ethics text, Inside Lawyers Ethics (with Prof Adrian Evans). She also teaches units on business regulation and is currently developing a fair food law and policy unit.

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