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Ben Richardson

I am a Reader 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

  • International trade and sustainable development
  • Global governance of labour and land rights
  • Political economy of agriculture, food and diet
  • Commodity chain methodologies

The empirical focus of my research has been on the international political economy of sugar. Sugar: Refined Power in a Global Regime concerned the governance of the international sugar trade and made two key arguments. First, that 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.

My interest in the link between trade and development led to a related project on Working Beyond the Border? EU Trade Agreements and International Labour Standards. This looked at the effects of labour provisions in the EU's Free Trade Agreements on labour governance and, ultimately, workers themselves. The research involved fieldwork in Moldova, South Korea and Guyana - all countries that have signed an EU FTA with labour provisions in them - and traced the effects of the agreements in their respective EU-linked export industries of clothing, cars and sugar. The International Labour Organization, the European Trade Union Institute, and the European Centre for Development Policy Management were integrated as project partners. Here are summaries of key findings on the effects of EU FTAs on labour governance and on export industries. More detail is available at the project website.

Teaching and supervision

I am part of the editorial team for the website I-PEEL: International Political Economy of Everyday Life.

I have supervised the PhD theses below. Please get in touch if you are interested in working together on a thesis topic that overlaps with my research interests.

  • The Discontented Farmer: State-Society Relations and Food Security in Rural Tanzania (Marika Mura, completed 2016)
  • Uneven Development and the Governance of Agricultural Commodity Booms: The Case of Soybean in South America (Maria Giraudo, completed 2018)
  • Recasting Rights in the Caribbean: The Politics of the Barbadian Flyingfish Fishery (Lisa Soares, completed 2019)
  • Cashless Welfare Payments and Everyday Life: A Study of South Africa and Australia (Luke Bantock, completed 2019)

  • Externalisation of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy in Georgia (Laura Gelhaus, completed 2020)
  • Supranational Law, State Sovereignty and Regional Integration: The Caribbean Court of Justice and the Evolution of the Caribbean Community (Safiya Ali)

Research impact

Through my research on trade and labour standards I have co-authored a study for the Human Rights Subcommittee in the European Parliament on the impact of the GSP+ scheme on workers' rights and a submission to the European Commission on reform to its Trade and Sustainable Development chapters. I have also submitted evidence to the UK's International Development Select Committee.

Through my research on sugar I have worked with 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. 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.

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
024765 24462
Room E1.17 Social Sciences
Advice and feedback hours for Term 3 are by appointment. Please email me to arrange.


Sugar - Polity Resources