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Ben Richardson

I am an Associate Professor in International Political Economy. Prior to joining the University of Warwick, I studied at the University of Sheffield where I received my PhD in 2008.

Research interests

  • Political economy of food and agriculture
  • International trade and labour standards
  • Theories of global governance
  • Development in southern Africa and the Caribbean

The main focus of my research has been the international political economy of sugar. My first book Sugar: Refined Power in a Global Regime emerged out of my doctoral research and was shortlisted for the BISA International Political Economy Group book of the year. It concerned the governance of the international sugar trade and made two key arguments. First, the privileged economic position of the sugar industry had relied on more than just financial ties to politicians; sugar farmers and processors have also used agrarian discourse and strategies of self-organisation to insulate themselves from trade reform (dubbed ‘refined power’). But, second, new international trade agreements have pitted the sugar industry against more powerful fractions of capital, thereby leading to liberalisation and fragmenting the sugar industry as larger businesses began to invest abroad and trans-nationalise ownership (hence the shift to a global regime).

My next book, Sugar, broadened my investigation of the circulation of the sugar commodity to include its production and consumption. Situated in a eco-Marxist framework, it argued that multinational companies have advanced the mass consumption of sweetened snacks in the Global South and underpinned a new wave of foreign investment in sugar production. The expansion of large-scale and highly-industrialised farms across Latin America, Asia and Africa has kept the price of sugar down whilst pushing workers out of jobs and rural dwellers off the land. However, it also identified counter-movements to these practices. Health advocates warning against costly diseases like diabetes, trade unions fighting for better pay, and local residents campaigning for a cleaner environment have all re-shaped the way sugar is consumed and produced; typically by challenging the profit-driven nature of food and farming itself. Here is my overview of the book's approach.

In September 2015 I began work on a two-year collaborative ESRC Standard Grant called Working Beyond the Border? EU Trade Agreements and International Labour Standards. Existing research on the trade-labour nexus has overlooked how legal provisions in trade treaties are implemented in developing countries once those agreements are signed into effect. Moreover, there are no qualitative studies as yet of the EU’s recent switch to using ‘soft law’ promotional tools rather than ‘hard law’ sanctions to uphold labour standards. Finally, there has been limited theoretical investigation into the relationship between ‘public’ labour standards contained in treaties and overseen by national governments and ‘private’ labour standards set by transnational corporations and written into their contracts with suppliers. The project will involve fieldwork in countries which have signed a recent Free Trade Agreement with the EU, namely Moldova, South Korea and Guyana, and will trace the effects of the agreements in their respective export-oriented commodity chains of clothing, cars and sugar. The International Labour Organization, the European Trade Union Institute, and the European Centre for Development Policy Management are all as integrated project partners.

Teaching and supervision

I am Module Director for the undergraduate module Politics of International Development and the MA module The Global Food System. I am also part of the teaching team for the interdisciplinary module Challenges of Climate Change.

I have supervised the completion of Marika Mura's thesis on 'The Discontented Farmer: State-Society Relations and Food Security in Rural Tanzania' and am currently supervising the PhD candidates below. Please get in touch if you are interested in working together on a thesis topic that overlaps with my interests.

  • The Political Economy of Commodity Regions: Soybean in South America (Maria Giraudo)
  • A Critical Assessment of the BasicNeeds Model for Mental Health and Development (Nathan Harris)
  • Recasting Rights in the Caribbean: The Formation of a Regional Fisheries Policy (Lisa Soares)
  • Electronic Cashless Welfare Transfers in Australia and South Africa (Luke Bantock)
  • Externalisation of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (Laura Gelhaus)

Research impact

I act as UK representative for Ethical Sugar, a non-governmental organisation which campaigns for better social and environmental standards in the sugar industry. In this voluntary role I have written discussion papers on the relationship between sugar cane and development (see publications) and participated the multi-stakeholder roundtable Bonsucro. In 2012, I was chosen to be part of the committee that would advise on revisions to the production standard against which Bonsucro certifies sugarcane producers as sustainable.

Through my research I have also made contributions to public reports concerning the sugar industry. These include the Nuffield Council on Bioethics' report on biofuels and the Harvard Kennedy School's Collaborating for Change in Sugar Production. In addition, I have provided information to the policy departments of international development organisations including ActionAid, Oxfam, Traidcraft and the Fairtrade Foundation, as well as to Coca-Cola’s expert convening on land rights in its sugar supply-chain. I have also participated in a public art event for the Delfina Foundation's Politics of Food series. Finally, my work has been cited in media reports, including:

Research grants

Source Project title Amount Duration (months) Start date Co-applicants
ESRC Standard Grant Working Beyond the Border: EU Trade Agreements and International Labour Standards £401,000 36 2015 James Harrison (Warwick) and Liam Campling and Adrian Smith (Queen Mary University of London)
University of Warwick ESRC Impact Acceleration Award Sustainable Sugar and Global Standards: The Workers’ Perspective £1,250 2 2015 Olivier Genevieve (Ethical Sugar)
University of Warwick and Queen Mary University of London Partnership Fund Externalisation of EU Economic Governance £8,000 12 2012 James Harrison (Warwick) and Liam Campling and Adrian Smith (Queen Mary University of London)
University of Warwick Brazil Partnership Fund
Brazilian Discourse on Food Security £8,000 24 2012 João Nunes (Warwick)
Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship Social Justice in the Sugar Cane Industry £50,000 24 2010  
ESRC Post-Doctoral Fellowship Global Political Economy of Sugar £74,000 12 2009  
University of Sheffield Departmental PhD Award Politics of the International Sugar Trade £40,000 36 2005  

richardson profile

Associate Professor 024765 24462 Room E1.17 Social Sciences
Advice and feedback hours Wed 12:30-14:30


Sugar - Polity Resources