A New Brand of Cornflakes? Oxfam's Make Trade Fair Campaign and the Reform of the EU Sugar Regime

Ulrik Kristiansen

Student thesis: Master thesis


Advocacy for the change of structural causes of poverty, such as skewed international trade rules, have become widespread in recent years amongst Northern NGOs. The case of this thesis has thus been Oxfam International’s attempt to influence the reform of the European Union’s sugar policies, which have been strongly criticised for distorting world sugar trade. Oxfam’s aims were to secure developing country exporters a remunerative EU sugar price, greater market access and an end to all EU export subsidies and sugar dumping. Oxfam’s primary strategy was to gain media visibility to put pressure on the Commission and individual member states, particularly the United Kingdom. New institutional theory and mass media effects theory was used to structure the analysis of Oxfam’s impact in the media and link this to changes in political rhetoric and in sugar market legislation from 2002-2005. Coverage in 3 large UK media outlets and a diverse sample of primary documents from the UK and Commission 1999-2005 formed the empirical basis of the analysis and were supplemented with interviews. It showed strong and positive visibility for Oxfam’s message in the Guardian, attributable to the significance this type of story had for the newspaper. In the BBC News visibility was low because development stories generally attract low ratings, and because of little airtime for complex issues. For the Daily Telegraph political sympathy towards sugar farmer interests appear to have been one explanation for low interest in the campaign. The UK and the Commission’s rhetoric remained firm throughout the period, indicating preferences for substantial price reductions, retaining the Everything but Arm’s market access agreement unaltered and stopping export subsidisation, where only the latter matched Oxfam’s demands fully. Even so budget crises and WTO rulings on subsidised exports also prompted the EU to make concessions on export subsidies. In general the low impact of Oxfam itself was due to low media visibility, but also the increasing dominance of a liberal paradigm on agricultural reform thinking spurred by agendas of building a more competitive EU foods industry. It was also the result of a decade-long erosion of corporative relations between the Commission and the farming sector, whose demands for moderate price reductions paradoxically coincided with those of many developing countries dependent on EU import preferences. Lastly, relative political unity and policy certainty on the sugar issue, coupled with Oxfam’s difficulties in framing the EU’s fixed prices as both problematic and necessary to preserve never presented a particularly attractive conflict-scenario for the media. Despite the obvious difficulties for gaining political influence via the media, Oxfam’s campaign has nevertheless established it as a vocal player in discussions of EU trade and agricultural policy, which both UK ministers and Commissioners continually respond to.

EducationsInternational Development Studies, (Bachelor/Graduate Programme) GraduateCommunication Studies, (Bachelor/Graduate Programme) Graduate
Publication date26 Apr 2007


  • EU
  • sugar regime
  • advocacy
  • Oxfam