Repoliticising and scaling up ethical consumption: Lessons from public procurement for school meals in Brazil

Dorothea Kleine, Maria das Gracas Brightwell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ethical consumption is a vibrant field of research but suffers from both empirical and conceptual biases. Empirically, too much of the data is gathered in the global North, often framing a false binary in which consumption spaces are located in the global North while production takes place in the global South. Conceptually, there is a growing demand for researchers to move away from an emphasis on the individual consumer and instead focus on collective agency and structural change. This paper offers contributions to both of these frontiers of research. It reports on data on ethical consumption and public procurement, collected through the first ever large scale representative survey on procurement criteria and 16 focus groups in Brazil. It concretises these debates by focusing specifically on the pioneering Brazilian school meals policy which supports both “family farms” and organic modes of production at a massive scale, in providing meals to 43 million Brazilian children. Lessons learnt from the study include, firstly, the potential for successfully scaling up ethical consumption through public procurement; secondly, the way in which such scaling-up forces the public debate to engage with food production and consumption at a systemic level; and thirdly, how the systems-level debate leads to a repoliticisation of the discussion of the cultural, social, economic and environmental role of food and farming. The focus group discussions showed a high degree of support for the school meals policy, including from affluent citizens whose children would not benefit from the scheme. Surveys also showed strong support from Brazilian citizens for using environmental and social criteria in public procurement.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)135-147
Number of pages13
Early online date10 Nov 2015
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015


  • ethical consumption
  • Brazil
  • state procurement

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