Sacred Alliance or Pact With the Devil? How and Why Social Enterprises Collaborate with Mainstream Businesses in the Fair Trade Sector

This paper uses institutional theory to highlight different patterns of cross-sector collaboration from the perspective of social enterprises. Specifically, it explores how and why social enterprises interact with mainstream businesses and to what extent their collaboration patterns reflect a vision of how their social mission should be implemented and institutionalized. The empirical analysis is derived from a qualitative study of ‘fair trade’ – a hybrid model created by social enterprises and using market mechanisms to support small-scale producers in developing countries and to advocate for changes in international trading practices. The findings highlight three strategies used by fair trade social enterprises to manage their interactions with mainstream businesses: sector solidarity, selective engagement, and active appropriation. This paper suggests that each strategy is motivated by a different vision of how best to articulate the social mission of fair trade via specific types of collaborations. It also notes how each vision has a distinct pattern of institutionalization at the field level. This paper adds to the emergent literatures on social enterprise and social entrepreneurship, fair trade, cross-sector collaboration and hybrid organizing.


Benjamin Huybrechts, Alex Nicholls and Katharina Edinger. 2017. Sacred alliance or pact with the devil? How and why social enterprises collaborate with mainstream businesses in the fair trade sector, Entrepreneurship & Regional Development, 29(7/8): 586-608:

2017-10-13T09:33:08+00:00 By |

About the Author:

Benjamin Huybrechts
I am an Associate Professor in Entrepreneurship and Organization at emlyon business school, Casablanca campus. I hold a PhD in Management from the University of Liège (HEC Liège, 2010) and I spent my post-doctoral research stay at the University of Oxford (Saïd Business School). Before joining emlyon business school, I was an Associate Professor at HEC Liège, where I ran the doctoral program in management. I supervised 7 doctoral theses, among which 2 were succesfully completed and 4 are still on-going.

My research topics include entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial teams in developing countries, the emergence of new hybrid organizational forms, the diffusion of social innovation, and the governance of cross-sector partnerships and networks. I study these topics in fields such as fair trade, recycling, renewable energy, culture and more broadly social entrepreneurship. My research has been published in journals (Organization Studies, Journal of Business Ethics, International Small Business Journal, Entrepreneurship & Regional Development…), books, and book chapters.

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