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Fairness-Enabling Practices in Agro-Food Chain

Department of Agricultural and Food Sciences, University of Bologna, Viale Fanin 50, 40137 Bologna, Italy
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2022, 14(11), 6391;
Submission received: 29 April 2022 / Revised: 18 May 2022 / Accepted: 22 May 2022 / Published: 24 May 2022


Fairness in the agro-food system is an increasingly important issue. Ensuring fair and ethical practices in the agro-food chain is essential for sustainable, effective, and resilient agro-food systems. Identifying and understanding fairness-enabling practices and existing business applications in the agro-food chain is crucial to create a sustainable system. This research study is an extensive literature review analyzing academic and grey literature. Thus, this study aims: (i) to conceptualize fairness in the agro-food system; (ii) to identify the fairness-enabling practices contributing to a fair agro-food system; and (iii) to explore existing agro-food chain business applications relevant to achieving a sustainable and fair agro-food chain. Fairness-enabling practices have a vital role in achieving fairness in the upstream and downstream operational stages of the agro-food chain. On the one hand, the upstream cycle includes many elements, from a ban on unfair trading practices to ethical treatment to farmers, from transparency through technology and innovation to ensuring fair remuneration. The key goal is to improve the position of farmers in the chain. The study considers the following five upstream focused business applications to enable fairness practices: blockchain, cooperatives, interbranch organizations, business applications for small-scale farmers, and Fairtrade. On the other hand, achieving success in the downstream operational stage of the chain depends on fairness-oriented consumer food choice, consumer intention to buy fair food, consumer perceived value of fair food, and increased information and transparency on agro-food costs and price. This paper takes into account two consumer-focused business applications which provide downstream fairness practices: dual entitlement and dynamic pricing. To conclude, agro-food chain actors should learn how to find profit in fairness, and turn fairness-related costs into profitable business models.

1. Introduction

Fairness in the agro-food system has been an increasingly important issue in recent years. In particular, it has become a cutting-edge topic with the Declaration of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the United Nations [1]. In particular, the fairness-focused debate in the agro-food chain has become a multidimensional issue relating to many United Nations sustainability goals. This research approach allows to touch on the following sustainable development goals, while explaining fairness and fairness-enabling practices in agro-food chains: Goal 1 (No Poverty); Goal 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth); Goal 10 (Reduced Inequalities); Goal 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production); Goal 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions).
Establishing a fair and ethical agro-food chain is crucial for sustainable, effective, and resilient agro-food systems, all in all, sustainable development [2]. Conceptualizing fairness-enabling practices in agro-food systems and identifying the business applications applied in the agro-food chain play a vital role for building such a sustainable system. Therefore, exploring the enabling practices is essential to achieve fairness in the upstream and downstream operational stages of the agro-food chain and sustainable development.
Fairness is a growing issue in the food systems for all agro-food chain actors, from farmers to consumers [3]. Especially for farmers, who pose as the first stage of the agro-food chain, there is the risk of unstable food chain relationships and low prices paid to them. Low prices mainly affect farmers with low bargaining power. Furthermore, farmers’ shares of consumer prices remain fairly unknown because of the lack of transparency in the system. These fairness issues may be tackled with fairness-oriented practices and business applications [4].
Shaped as a result of an extensive literature review, this study firstly aims to conceptualize fairness in the agro-food system. Then, it presents the fairness-enabling practices which contribute to achieving a sustainable agro-food system upstream and downstream in the agro-food chain. Finally, it aims to explore existing agro-food chain management practices and business models relevant to achieving a sustainable and fair agro-food chain. Within the agro-food chain, there are four key actors: farmer, processor, retailer, and consumer. Farmer, processor, and retailer may operationalize fairness upstream in the agro-food chain, whereas consumers, through the role of gatekeepers of retailers, may contribute to value fairness downstream in the agro-food chain. Upstream refers to the material inputs needed for production, processing, and distribution, while downstream focuses on production, distribution, and purchasing [5]. Within upstream operation, fairness can be provided through business applications and models able to create, propose, capture, and deliver fairness value. In the downstream process, fairness is a value to be delivered to and appreciated by consumers. Agro-food chain actors have to ensure that consumers value fairness, adopting fairness-oriented food choices.
The paper includes four sections. The following section explains materials and methods. Section 3 presents the results of research. It consists of three subheadings as main types of fairness, upstream enabling practices, and downstream enabling practices. Section 4 displays conclusions.

2. Materials and Methods

The methodological framework of the research covers three steps (Figure 1).
Step 1 aims at the definition of fairness, as addressed by past literature. The literature review consists of the combination of past research studies indexed in Web of Science (WoS), Scopus, and Google Scholar. The keywords of the first step are fairness, justice, agr*, and chain (Table 1).
Step 2 aims at conceptualizing fairness-enabling practices in the agro-food chain, focusing on practices implemented upstream and downstream in the agro-food chain. This step focuses on farmers, producers, and retailers in the upstream agro-food chain, and it centers upon consumers in the downstream part of the chain. The sources identified to analyze the enabling practices come from an extensive literature review with published scientific studies from WoS, Scopus, Google Scholar, and institutions’ reports and websites. The keywords for Step 2 were divided into two pillars based on upstream fairness-enabling practices and downstream fairness-enabling practices. The first group of the keywords in Step 2 is focused on the agro-food chain: producer*, farmer*, fair price. The second group of the Step 2 focuses on the downstream enabling practices, namely, consumers, thus the keywords include an agro-food chain focus: consumer*, behave*. In this context, Steps 1 and 2 include 79 published papers, 5 reports, and 1 website (Table 1).
Step 3 further expands previous research steps and focuses on existing business applications for upstream enabling practices, and consumer-focused business practices for downstream enabling practices. This research step is based on academic literature through Scopus, WOS, Google Scholar, and a new round of reviews on grey literature such as websites, international organization reports, such as the European Commission and FAO, company websites, and other institutions’ reports and official websites, and consultancy reports. This step includes the same keywords as Steps 1 and 2. In addition, Step 3 was conducted by adding another two sets of keywords. The aim was to identify existing business applications on key trends emergent during Steps 1 and 2. Thus, the first part of Step 3 added the following keywords: producer*, farmer*, fair price, blockchain, business model*, tech*, fair trade. The second part of Step 3 includes the following keywords: consumer*, behav*, dynamic pricing, dual entitlement. Step 3 covers 36 scientific papers, 10 institutions’ reports, and 4 websites (Table 1).

3. Results

Literature review results support that there is no agreed definition of what fairness is. Brown et al. (2005) define fairness as rewards, consistency, voice, and bilateral communication [6]. Duffy et al. (2013) view fairness as related to fair price, payment terms, costs, bilateral communication, and treatment compared to other suppliers, policies to resolve conflicts, provision of information, familiarity with conditions, and mutual respect [7]. However, “price” has become prominent in fairness debates. The definition of a fair price is a complex phenomenon that involves economic and ethical elements. Prices are at the center of market negotiations and commercial relationships, and help to align independent decentralized decisions in an orderly manner. Prices continuously fluctuate, complicating the identification of a fixed number or value. Various conceptualizations have been developed and adapted to explain the phenomenon of fair price [8]. Some of them place a strong emphasis on ethics, while others approach it from an economic point of view [9]. Understanding the economic aspect of prices is crucial, and is at the basis of the debate on the functioning of the agricultural and food system as it currently operates. Nevertheless, there is an ethical dimension to be taken into account. The price affects both parties’ transaction, and the actions of a party may affect others adversely. The aim should be set on earning profits without defrauding competitors or consumers. Thus, ethics and economic dimensions of fair price are intertwined and need to be considered together (Figure 2). Better insights about these issues are needed when discussing topics such as the ethics of pricing and remuneration in a balanced and informed manner [10].
Griffith et al. (2006) define it as fair treatment (general), ability to contribute to exchange relationship, outcomes/rewards, long-term orientation, bilateral communication, and specific issues (credit term, pricing issues, etc.) [11]. Gu and Wang (2011) conceptualize fairness such as in profit allocation, treatment compared with other suppliers, and respect [12]. Kashyap and Sivadas (2012) define it as rewards, procedures and policies, and respect. In the literature, these definitions are grouped under three key fairness categories: distributive fairness, procedural fairness, and interactional fairness [13].

3.1. Main Types of Fairness

3.1.1. Distributive Fairness

Distributive fairness focuses on the fairness of outcome distributions and partner contributions. Its origin dates to the equity theory of Adams (1965) [14,15]. This theory includes the “norm of distributive justice” or the aspiration of all members involved to have a fair and just distribution of outcomes. It identifies and measures fairness as the ratio of inputs to outputs. If this ratio is balanced, an outcome is deemed fair. The perception of the fairness of outcomes received is known as distributive fairness [16]. This type of fairness seeks to determine whether the distribution of outcomes is perceived as fair. In this context, the fairness of an outcome is linked to equity and equality [17]. Thus, distributive fairness refers to the perceived fairness of outcomes or resource allocations and includes consumer evaluation of whether the price is a deal or saving the consumer money [14]. Within the exchange framework, equity is considered as the equivalence of the outcome/input ratios of all parties involved in the exchange [18].
In the agro-food chain, the price every partner in the chain receives for their products is described as an outcome. Therefore, price fairness, in the form of price and revenue distribution along the chain, is the main issue of distributive fairness. Many researchers link distributive fairness to distribution of remuneration among actors [19,20]. Price fairness, in particular, is a relatively young concept that is mainly derived from justice and equity theories [21]. Yeoman and Santos (2016) define the dimensions of outcome fairness, which is linked to distributive fairness, as fair price and payment terms, and creating conditions for fair treatment of employees [22].
There are three different perspectives on price fairness in food chains that need to be distinguished. The first is the price fairness from a consumer’s perspective, which deals with the fairness of prices that consumers pay for commodities [21,23]. The second is the price fairness from a producer’s perspective, which evaluates fair prices that producers obtain for their products [24]. This perspective is often also evaluated as a price-plus paid by the end consumers for additional value, which requires more input (effort) from the producer (e.g., for organic and Fairtrade products [25,26,27]). The third is price fairness as fair distribution among supply chain partners, which investigates the fairness of the distribution of total revenues allocated to every single supply chain partner [28].
Gielessen and Graafland (2009) interpret the compensatory fairness concept within the framework of distributive fairness. Compensatory justice is the way of compensating people for what they lose [29]. In this context, a fair price can be deemed as compensation, which is equal to the loss suffered by the person being compensated.
Bush and Spiller (2015) indicate that a fair distribution of revenues is influenced by distributive considerations [30]. In addition, they indicate that farmers are compensated unfairly and should earn more of the food dollar from a consumer perspective, while processors and food retailers should lose shares. Perceptions of price fairness often include distributive concerns beyond mere compensatory concerns. Starting from this point, remuneration for farmers and how price is distributed among chain actors are important elements for deciding whether distributive fairness is in question. A fair price is a purchasing and selling price which is fair for both sides. The seller gains some margin, which is not excessively high. Therefore, both sides of the transaction should be glad about that price [31].
In this context, Gielissen and Graafland (2009) find that price increases are judged to be fairer when they benefit poor or small agents than when they benefit rich or large agents, other things being equal. Therefore, they investigate several concepts of distributive justice rather than merely compensatory justice in price fairness perceptions [29]. Distributive justice is concerned with the fair distribution of society’s benefits and burdens. Compensatory justice can be interpreted as one particular form of distributive justice. In particular, one way of defining a just distribution is by relating one’s share to one’s contribution. The concept of distributive justice is, therefore, more general than the concept of compensatory justice. To sum up, previous investigations support that people are interested in food that is fairer in terms of revenue, with fair prices for farmers [15,25,28,32,33].

3.1.2. Procedural Fairness

The second approach to fairness is procedural fairness, a concept introduced by [34]. Procedural fairness describes how outcomes are achieved. It focuses on aspects of the day-to-day communication and interaction processes, referring to the degree to which value chain authors perceive equality and fairness [35]. This approach analyzes how outcomes are obtained. It deals with the procedures used by the price decision maker rather than the actual outcome achieved. The pricing process manages the revenue distribution in each stage of the agro-food chain. In this context, Skarlicki and Folger (1997) indicate that people who can control a procedure and influence the decision-making process are more satisfied compared to a process that people cannot control. Food chain actors may meet higher freedom of price setting at the expense of lower revenues [36].
Procedural fairness is related to the perceived fairness of the procedures used to determine outcome distributions or allocations [16,37]. The question is whether the process that is used to come to a solution is fair and whether this process is perceived to be fair [13]. In the literature, procedural fairness is commonly linked to agreements, negotiations process, and bargaining power. Zitzmann and Dobhan (2010) [17] point out that procedural fairness is relevant in price negotiations. In particular, they highlight the importance of agreement in procedural fairness. If there is no agreement, the participants included in negotiation processes do not receive payment. In addition, they also emphasize that the amount of payment to be received by participants is highly dependent on the bargaining power, which means success in the negotiation process.
Yeoman and Santos (2016) define procedural fairness as fair decision making and awareness of agro-food chain conditions, including understanding, capacity building, and explanation of standards [22]. Druckman and Wagner (2017) indicate that better agreements can be obtained when representatives in negotiations adhere to principles of procedural fairness [38]. They highlight that procedural fairness consists of four parts during the negotiations: fair play, fair representation, transparency, and voluntary decisions. In line with bargaining power, Folger et al. (1996) find that people who can control a procedure (who have a ‘voice’ in the decision-making process) are more satisfied with a process than people without control [39]. Thal (1988) indicates the importance of bargaining power for procedural justice [40]. The absence or unfairness of a fair bargain removes the guarantee of procedural fairness, which would be present had there been fair bargaining. When there is no bargaining in a given transaction, a presumption of procedural unfairness is raised.
In the agro-food chain, the approaches shaping procedural fairness are effective instruments because they may build procedures that manage revenue distribution in each stage of the agro-food chain. Lewicki and Bunker (1995) describe four elements that characterize procedural justice. First, a fair procedure emphasizes consistency. Second, those carrying out the procedure must be impartial and neutral [41]. Third, those directly affected by the decisions should have a voice in representing themselves in the process. Lastly, the processes that are implemented should be transparent. In addition, while interpreting procedural fairness linked to the process, Bolton, Brandts, and Ockenfel (2005) discovered that credibility is the key factor for procedures to be considered fair [42].

3.1.3. Interactional Fairness

Interactional fairness is addressed through honesty, respect, and quality of information, which is closely related to transparency [43]. This criterion deals with the trading partners’ behaviors in terms of honestly, respect (interpersonal fairness), and quantity and quality of information (informational fairness) [30].
That is to say that it is much more about ethical behaviors. Interpersonal fairness reflects the degree to which people are treated with politeness, dignity, and respect by those executing procedures. Informational fairness focuses on the quality of the information provided to people, which conveys information regarding the reason why procedures were used in a certain way or why outcomes were distributed in a particular fashion. The interactional fairness concept was proposed by Bies and Moag (1986) [43]. They address the quality of people’s interpersonal treatment when procedures are implemented. This concept does not clear up whether interactional fairness must be assumed as an autonomous fairness dimension or as an aspect of procedural components. Rabin (1993) mentions that the intention behind an action also influences people’s evaluation of fairness and forms their (re)actions [44].
Yeoman and Santos (2016) define four dimensions of interactional fairness: conflict resolution, mutual respect, consistent and bilateral communication, and sustainable relationships [22]. According to Greenberg (1990), interactional fairness can be grouped into two concepts: interpersonal fairness, such as perceived politeness and respect, and informational fairness, which describes explanations that are given for decisions [45,46]. Greenberg (1990) points out that interpersonal fairness focuses on the degree to which people are treated with dignity, politeness, and concern. It usually plays an important role in an organization that has specific superior and subordinate relationships [45]. In contrast, again, Greenberg (1990) found that informational fairness refers to conveying information, including why procedures are formulated in a certain way and why profits are distributed in a specific way. Informational fairness is always prominent in a relatively equal relationship. Liu et al. (2012) argued that informational justice provides for a collaborative environment by reducing information asymmetry and mutual uncertainty [47].
Some studies in the literature define interactional fairness as a third dimension, as discussed above. However, several studies consider interactional fairness as the social aspect of procedural fairness [48]. Under this framework, distributive and procedural fairness are based on structural components of fairness, while interactional fairness is assumed as a social aspect of fairness.

3.1.4. Interrelations between the Types of Fairness

The literature analysis supports the view that there are different definitions of fairness and they are related to each other (Figure 3). There is a need to integrate them in order to fully conceptualize fairness. Distributive fairness is often the key goal to be achieved. It refers to the tangible and fair allocation of outcomes among actors within the agro-food chain. Procedural fairness is one of the primary tools to provide distributive fairness. It is about strengthening negotiations and providing bargaining power platforms to ensure fair distribution in the agro-food chain. The concept of interactional fairness includes honesty, respect, and quality of information, which are closely related to transparency, and it is an important enabler of procedural fairness. Interactional fairness can be a key contributor that creates favorable conditions for procedural fairness.
Ultimately, both procedural and interactional fairness dimensions can be considered as the driving forces to achieve distributive fairness. Interactional fairness eases overall agro-food system fairness, and in particular it contributes to ensuring procedural fairness. It contributes to the key role of procedural fairness in attaining distributive fairness. Procedural fairness focuses on the fairness of transaction processes, which are used to determine the distribution outcomes of resources and incomes.

3.2. Upstream Fairness-Enabling Practices

This section explores what practices enable fairness upstream in the agro-food chain. Upstream operations are those in which the materials flow into an agro-food actor. Thus, it includes farmers’ suppliers, farmers, and food processors. In the agro-food chain, it may include retailers, as they increasingly play a key role in the farmer and processor relationship.
The study identifies twelve key upstream fairness-enabling practices (Figure 4). Each upstream fairness-enabling practice is related to different types of fairness. Providing fairness practices enables achievement of a fairer business relationship in the upstream operational stage of the chain. Fairness-enabling practices have mutual interactions and influence.
The first upstream fairness-enabling practice is the “ban on unfair trading practices”. The food supply chain is vulnerable to unfair trading practices because of stark instability between small and large operators [49,50,51]. In particular, past studies show that small-scale farmers do not have sufficient bargaining power to defend their rights in the food chain [52]. A ban on unfair trading practices contributes to achieving both procedural fairness and interactional fairness. It promotes procedural fairness as it protects weaker suppliers against stronger buyers, namely, it addresses the parties’ negotiation power, and interactional fairness through price transparency and accurate information sharing, networking, and trust among chain actors (EU Regulation 2019/633) [49].
The second upstream fairness-enabling practice is “increased price transparency”. This practice means openly sharing among agro-food chain actors how the price is distributed by including information on food production costs of each chain actor. The aim is to show that all agro-food chain actors cover their own production costs, thus suggesting that the price is fair.
Calculating food cost provides detailed information to the company, as well as to the other agro-food chain actors, including the consumers, on how the price is defined. Cost-based pricing is a pricing method based on the cost of production, manufacturing, and distribution of product. Essentially, the price of a product is defined by adding a percentage of the manufacturing costs to the selling price to make a profit. In this context, the cost-price method is related to both interactional fairness due to its transparency, and distributive fairness due to its relevance to economic output.
Past literature shows that cost-plus pricing, also known as mark-up pricing, is an effective way for sellers interested in conveying that their prices are fair and building customer trust. It is inherently fair and non-discriminatory. This pricing method says that a fixed percentage is added on top of the cost to produce one unit of a product (unit cost), which comprises all functions involved in making and bringing a product to market and its estimation [53]. Finally, the resulting number is the selling price of the product.
To most consumers, fair means the seller’s actual costs plus a reasonable premium. Thus, increasing price transparency enables clarification of the seller’s costs. The seller’s costs include fixed and variable costs incurred in manufacturing the product, and then a mark-up percentage is applied to these costs to estimate the final price.
Implementing mark-up pricing is quite simple, easy to communicate or to justify, and inherently fair. However, there are also several handicaps. For instance, cost-plus pricing discourages efficiency and cost containment. In addition, sales forecasts on the basis of expected costs may be wrong, and cost-plus prices may not guarantee covering the cost or earning a profit; finally, the cost-plus pricing calculation ignores both the customer’s willingness to pay and competitors’ prices. Furthermore, the literature suggests, as mentioned above, that consumers may not have or be perceived not to have the competence to assess a fair mark-up or cost-plus pricing management practice. This practice directly links with interactional fairness because it is about transparent information sharing [43].
Similarly, the third upstream enabling practice, “lower asymmetry of information”, and fourth enabling practice, “trust in chain relationship and fair dealing”, are related to interactional fairness. Lower information asymmetry is about effective information sharing among the chain actors and contributes to achieving interactional fairness [47]. In addition, since trust in chain relationships and fair dealing is about mutual respect, consistent and bilateral communication and sustainable relationships are linked with interactional fairness [22,45].
The fifth enabling practice is “ethical treatment to farmers”. Establishing an ethical relationship in the chain is fundamental to achieve a fair agriculture system. Although acting ethically has links with all three types of fairness, it has a direct relationship with interactional fairness. To sum up, this upstream enabling practice is related to behavioral ethics [43,54].
The sixth enabling practice includes “no gangmastering, child labor, discrimination”. There are various reports from associations and organizations that denounce such phenomena in the agricultural sector. They clarify what is the dynamic of the gangmastering system (i.e., workers being illegally employed in the agricultural sector at very low wages) [55,56]. The workforce exploited by the farms often include migrants that face appalling working conditions. These issues have a direct link with interactional fairness as they are related to ethics and protecting labor rights. Nevertheless, it also indirectly helps to achieve distributive fairness, by rebalancing the cost-cutting practices of gangmastering, child labor, and discrimination, and thus achieve better economic outcome distribution.
The seventh fairness-enabling practice is “procedural information”, and it is related to whether food processors or retailers provide information about the adopted procedures resulting in agro-food chain price distribution (e.g., predefined contract, contract farming) [13,57]. Contract farming is important in terms of transparency. It involves production by farmers under agreement with buyers for their outputs. The contractual arrangement enables small-scale farmers to integrate into modern agricultural value chains, providing them with inputs, technical assistance, and assured markets [58]. These agreements can work well for both parties, but only if they are fair and have been properly set up.
The eighth enabling practice is “improved producer cooperation”. Strengthening producer cooperation has a direct effect on procedural fairness as it leads to stronger farmers’ negotiating power. Ultimately, this also influences distributive fairness. Producers’ higher power can increase the prices paid to farmers and improve price distribution.
The ninth enabling practice is “long-term contract with fixed prices and volumes”. The provision of agreed long-term contractual conditions within the chain contributes to fairness for farmers and other actors [16]. This practice has an evident link with procedural fairness. Nevertheless, providing a long-term contract contributes to interactional fairness because it helps to increase transparency and builds trustful relationships within the chain. In addition, since it increases negotiation power for price distribution, it also promotes distributive fairness [28].
The tenth upstream fairness-enabling practice is “transparency through technology innovation”, and it is related to achieving interactional fairness. Food processors or retailers adopt agro-food chain technology innovation initiatives to favor transparency and trust among chain actors, including farmers (e.g., blockchain, digital platform, etc.). These technologies have the potential to provide significant benefits to chain partners through increased visibility and transparency, which will ensure the equal and unbiased distribution of outcomes [59,60]. In addition, when food processors or retailers specify the price paid to farmers, information sharing refers to informational fairness.
The eleventh practice is “strengthening farmers’ positions” in the chain. While providing reliability and transparency is not enough on its own, they are essential triggers for the consolidation of farmers’ positions and protection of their rights. Actually, “strengthening farmers’ positions” has links with all types of fairness. This practice has a nexus to distributive fairness in terms of outcomes [16]. If the food processors or retailers provide information on the price distribution among the chain actors and pay a fair price to farmers, it means that they attempt to strengthen farmers’ positions economically. If the product has a Fairtrade certification, it relates to procedural fairness as this kind of certifications supports farmers’ positions.
The twelfth upstream fairness-enabling practice is “ensuring farmers’ remuneration”. This practice has a direct link with distributive fairness [19,20,21]. Paying the farmers fairly is one of the most important factors for the improvement and stabilization of the living standards of the farmers. The dimensions of outcome fairness, which is linked to distributive fairness, are generally defined as fair price and payment terms, and creating conditions for fair treatment of employees [20,22].

3.3. Upstream-Focused Business Applications

Investigating the nexus between the three types of fairness, the fairness-enabling practices upstream in the agro-food chain, and business applications is crucial to understanding the dynamics in the agro-food system. There are limited studies that directly address the issue of fairness in business models. However, the extensive review identified existent applications that highlight one or more of the fairness-enabling practices upstream in the agro-food chain. These are: blockchain, cooperatives, interbranch organizations (IBO), business models for small-scale farmers, and Fairtrade (Figure 5).

3.3.1. Blockchain

Digital, organizational, and product-related innovations favor the multi-dimensional integration of agro-food systems [61]. Blockchain in the agro-food chains is one of the most innovative digital technologies and is still in its introduction phase. The blockchain is a ledger of accounts and transactions that are written and stored by all participants. This technology entails the entire chain from farm to consumer. The blockchain technology can track the provenance of food, and thus help create trustworthy agro-food supply chains, and build trust between producers and consumers. It is a reliable source of truth about the state of farms, inventories, and contracts in agriculture [62].
The limited available academic studies focused on blockchain advocate that blockchain contributes to agro-food chain fairness. They indicate that blockchain increases transparency and provides economic benefits for chain actors [59,60,63,64,65]. There are also valuable recent concrete applications of blockchain reported in the grey literature. These private-led initiatives are becoming increasingly common in agro-food chains [66]. Blockchain provides excellent opportunities for all chain actors, as it connects each supply chain partner to the others. The chain is digitally built up by inviting partners (one-up-one-down) until the first link (the farmer) is reached. Furthermore, every transaction for each product is registered, from the purchase at the farm gate to the final sale to the consumer. These transactions together form a specific agro-food product chain.
The blockchain technology has links with the three types of fairness. There are a number of aspects related to interactional fairness. First, blockchain can help track the provenance of food, thus contributing to trustworthy agro-food chains and building trust between producers and consumers. A lack of transparency and disconnection hinders capability to track issues, trace the origin of products, and give a fair price for producers. With blockchain technology, the agro-food chain is more transparent.
Second, blockchain technology contributes to procedural fairness, thanks to the adoption of smart contracts within blockchains. Contract terms and their roles in the bargaining process are the relevant issues within the framework of procedural fairness. Past literature indicates that a contract is procedurally fair where its terms are transparent and do not mislead as to aspects of the goods, service, price, and terms [67]. Smart contracts in blockchain satisfy this condition. The smart contract is gaining momentum as a suitable partner of blockchain in automatic transaction execution [64]. Blockchain delivers security, trust, safety, and a plethora of other benefits. Smart contracts could be used for equal wealth distribution to agro-food producers. In synthesis, jointly used with smart contracts, blockchain allows timely payments between stakeholders that can be triggered by data changes appearing in the blockchain.
Third, blockchain optimizes agro-food chain distributive fairness. Blockchain may allow farmers to properly set their own prices and optimize the quantities of products thanks to better information [68]. The applications and relevant studies show that this technology contributes to correcting the pricing imbalance by recording transactions in real-time, and helps farmers to sell commodities by lowering transaction fees.
Finally, blockchain can embody a number of fairness-enabling practices. Blockchain has a direct connection with “transparency through technology innovation”, and “increased price transparency”. In addition, it can have nexus with “ensuring farmers’ remuneration”, “strengthen farmers’ position”, “lower asymmetry of information”, and “trust in chain relationship and fair dealing”.

3.3.2. Cooperatives

Cooperatives are identified as a linking tool between “farm and fork” by diminishing farmers’ dependence on the middleman in the agro-food economy and by producing mechanisms for more equitable division of profits. In this context, the cooperative is a type of business model that can link the three types of fairness.
Cooperatives can empower producers, especially those being squeezed by the increasing industrialization of agriculture, to improve their quality of life and enhance their economic viability through social organization [69]. In line with procedural fairness, cooperatives emerge primarily to strengthen bargaining power; maintain access to competitive markets; capitalize on new market opportunities; and obtain needed products and services on a competitive basis. The cooperative model offers scale to farmers, which brings associated advantages that would not be achieved if acting individually [70,71,72,73]. The existence of procedural fairness not only significantly increases the enterprise’s integrated performance but also affects cooperative satisfaction [74].
The cooperative model has a direct link with distributive and interactional fairness. As a result of negotiations, cooperatives try to help farmers receive their fair share from production. In addition, they can also contribute to interactional fairness, thanks to transparency during negotiations [52]. In this context, according to the provided relationship between cooperatives and the three types of fairness, cooperatives can operationalize all the identified upstream fairness-enabling practices.

3.3.3. Interbranch Organizations (IBO)

IBOs are entities grouping economic actors from different stages of the agro-food chain, but are not involved in any activities related to price fixing. IBOs are vertically integrated organizations which comprise producers and at least one member of the processing or trading part of the agro-food chain. The primary aim is providing “a means of allowing dialogue between actors in the agro-food chain and promoting best practices and market transparency” [75]. In this context, vertical coordination has gained attention in the agro-food system as a way for providing both cost and product quality advantages [76]. With vertical structure, increased control over a larger share of the supply can improve price.
IBOs adopt measures to manage the chain, without themselves being involved in production, processing, or trade. They create benefits for farmers by establishing a dialogue between the various food chain actors to foster marketing coordination, improve knowledge, increase transparency, explore marketing potentials, and many other tasks [77]. All actions carried out by IBOs are supposed to benefit all members by improving the functioning of the agro-food chain. The economic dimension and therefore the competitive relationship between IBO members are usually not discussed within IBOs.
The presence of an IBO in the agro-food chain allows for a fairer distribution of risks and profitability. Recognized IBOs can help strengthen the farmers’ position and contribute to a more efficient agro-food chain [78].
IBOs have a direct link with procedural and interactional fairness, and they are indirectly related to distributive fairness. First, IBOs contribute to procedural fairness as they provide a negotiation platform for all actors in the agro-food chain. The presence of IBOs mitigates possible existing asymmetries in the bargaining power of the involved actors, contributing to procedural fairness. Second, IBOs ease interactional fairness as they provide correct and transparent knowledge within the framework of rights and respect. IBOs can improve knowledge and transparency of production and market through the publication of relevant statistical data in an aggregated form and via analysis of future market development. Thus, distributive fairness can be achieved through interactional and procedural fairness.

3.3.4. Business Applications for Small-Scale Farmers

Small-scale farmers and their representatives are aware of the need to adopt strategic management approaches with downstream players to define fairer agro-food chain relationships [79]. In recent decades, various programs have aimed at promoting smallholders’ market access. They often promote competitiveness, collaboration, and trust by strengthening chain actors’ relations. Small-scale farmers are encouraged to adopt business models adapted to match formal and informal features of the market and chain relations, and to gain better transparency and more efficient relations. In particular, these business models allow small-scale farmers to benefit from a framework of bodies and institutions, such as farmer organizations and agribusinesses, that provide stronger trading relationships with downstream buyers. Small-scale farmers become more competitive and well-organized, strengthening their capability to build collaborative and trustful relationships with other chain actors.
These business models can be divided into main pillars: producer-driven models, processor-and-retail-driven models, and intermediary models (Figure 6). The general aim of these models is to improve farmers’ technical and managerial skills, to ensure consistent volume and quality of supply to buyers, and to develop solid trading relationships.
  • Producer-Driven Models
Producer-driven models are established to provide members with economic benefits in terms of access to dynamic markets. These models are motivated and owned by small-scale producers based on collective action for increased small farmer participation in markets [80]. They aim to increase bargaining power, negotiating prices, delivery volumes and payment conditions, information exchange, access to inputs, technical assistance, secure market position, and farmer empowerment. They have an entrepreneurial focus, and may build on existing informal networks of farmers and traders as well as inputs and support from buyers or other chain actors. They allow producers to market collectively despite widely differing farm assets. Although producer-driven models are mostly related to procedural fairness, they also have links with distributive fairness and interactional fairness.
  • Processor- and Retail-Driven Models
Processor-and-retail-driven models occur when the processors and retailers lead initiatives with small-scale farmers [81]. Processor-and-retail-driven models seek to provide benefits for processing and retail companies with adequate and economic advantages for farmers. In particular, these models involve larger businesses organizing farmers into suppliers, which also include the provision of inputs and technical advice based on the buyers’ needs. In processor-and-retail-driven chains, profits come from combinations of high-value research, design, sales, marketing, and financial services that allow the retailers, processors, and marketers to act as strategic brokers in linking farmers with the consumer market [82]. Business relations are less intensive and easier to conclude due to the fact that inter-company relations tend to be weak; the goods are mostly standardized and thus do not need particular know-how [83].
Processor-and-retail-driven models affect smallholders and processors through the application of rather strict norms and standards relating to quality and volume. These models can provide clear incentives for market-driven product and process upgrading of benefit for farmers. For this reason, these models have a link with distributive fairness. However, steps are needed to ensure transparent assessments and sharing of gains. Where a buyer organizes a network of producers from a corporate responsibility ethic, there may be the risk of paternalism and dependence. These models also have direct links with procedural and interactional fairness, as they attempt to ensure a transparent framework based on respect and trust [79].
  • Intermediary Models
Intermediary business models focus on service provision, generally by an intermediary organization or by specialized providers, to balance the needs of small-scale farmers and processors with the realities of emerging modern markets, in terms of quality and volume. Intermediary models involve the provision of technical assistance and support the identification and improvement of smallholder market linkages [79]. Intermediaries provide services and inputs to smallholder farmers suffering from low productivity and low incomes [84].
Intermediary models drive change through processes of negotiation among agro-food chain actors. They achieve improved efficiency through greater organization, improved information flows, and shared standards along the chain. Working with a new generation of specialized intermediaries, both business-oriented and development-motivated, allows the linking of the market with small-scale producers. In line with the explanations, intermediary models have a direct link with all types of fairness.

3.3.5. Fairtrade

Fairtrade is “a comprehensive approach, combining commitments toward economic, social, and environmental development, building producer capacity, as well as the related dimensions of education and advocacy for the implementation of trade-based development” [85]. Fairtrade as a fairness-oriented business model strives to achieve greater equality in international trade by providing equitable distribution of gains between marginalized producers, traders, and consumers. Its goal is to improve producers’ incomes in some of the poorest countries in the world and help them to actively participate in the development of their communities and societies [86].
Fairtrade aims to contribute to sustainable development by promoting environment-friendly technologies, corporate social responsibility, human rights, elimination of child labor, marginalized producers and workers, campaigns to change practices in international trade, and raising consumer awareness, etc. [85].
The Fairtrade business model is promoted by a number of organizations providing compliance to identified Fairtrade standards in each phase of the supply channel from producers to consumers. The following figure visualizes business models within the Fairtrade system (Figure 7).
  • Producer Organizations
Producer organizations develop and create Fairtrade marketing strategies to advise, assist, and support producers [86]. Producer organizations involved in the Fairtrade system grow or produce products. They operate in economies where wages and incomes are low, social benefits are almost non-existent, and working conditions are extremely difficult. Considering the lack of experience or available resources, without the help of Fairtrade organizations, farmers are not in a position to obtain direct access to the market, neither local nor foreign. Any producer organization that wants to support sustainable development, to provide stable income to its members, to encourage democratic participation and respect other criteria, such as women’s equality, human rights, environmental protection, local culture, etc., is a potential partner of Fairtrade. Producer organizations, to be accepted as a trade partner in the Fairtrade system, must be able to produce a marketable product, that is, setting a range of products at a reasonable price and in sufficient quantity for a specified period.
  • Buyer Organizations
Buyer organizations import products with a “Fairtrade” label. To use this label, organizations must meet some requirements. First, these organizations have to buy directly from producer organizations using purchasing agreements that extend beyond one harvest cycle. Second, they have to guarantee a minimum price and a social premium above this minimum or pay the world market price when it is higher. For certified organic products, they must pay an additional premium. Third, importers have to offer pre-financing equal to 60 percent of the contract upon request [85]. Furthermore, they also play an essential role in encouraging and assisting producer organizations in different ways, such as advising them about possibilities to develop their production, and enabling them with training and skills in management.

3.4. Downstream Enabling Practices

The downstream section of the agro-food chain focuses on food distribution and purchasing [5]. Consumers have a key role downstream in the chain as they can influence distribution and production thanks to their food choices. This research identifies five downstream fairness-enabling practices. Achieving fairness-oriented consumer purchasing behavior depends on agro-food chain enabling practices aimed at increasing cost and price transparency, consumer behavior, consumer intention to buy fair food, consumer perceived value of fair food, and consumer food choice. Figure 8 summarizes downstream fairness-enabling practices [14,86,87,88].
The first downstream enabling practice aims at “increased transparency about cost and price”. This practice represents an essential product attribute for consumers, enhancing fairness perceptions and effective evaluations. For sellers, price transparency is a potentially powerful complement to price moves, and, by enhancing trust among consumers, can positively influence brand value. Cost transparency is defined as the sharing of information related to cost between suppliers and buyers [86], or, more specifically, as the disclosure of the variable costs associated with each component of producing a good [89].
Increased cost transparency allows customers to compare costs, as well as prices, in order to assess accurately a product’s value. This is a way to help build trust and relationships among chain actors and consumers [86]. In addition, transparency in price generally allows users to compare prices. In this context, this practice has a direct link with interactional fairness.
The second enabling practice, “consumer behavior”, and the third enabling practice, “consumer intention to buy fair food”, are also important elements for easing consumer fairness-oriented behavior. To increase fairness in the agro-food chain, consumers should have the intention and positive perception towards agro-food fairness. Behavior is driven by intention and both of them have a causal relationship. This is conceptualized by the theory of planned behavior (TPB), which is a consumer behavior theory that links a number of constructs to behavior [87].
A central factor in TPB is the individual’s intention to perform a given behavior, that is, purchasing and consuming fair food. Intentions are assumed to capture the motivational factors that influence a behavior. The theoretical framework based on the sequential link between behavioral achievement with motivation (intention) and ability (behavioral control) is by no means new [87]. Whereas intention is directly affected by attitude toward behavior, subjective norms and perceived behavioral control, intention, and perceived behavioral control have a direct impact on behavior. Thus, in order to achieve consumers’ fair food purchasing, the agro-food chain should enable consumers’ intention, by acting on consumers’ attitude, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control towards fairness.
The fourth practice is “consumer perceived value of fair food”. Some studies highlight the link between perceived value and satisfaction as indicators of economic and social outcomes and behavioral intention [88]. Previous studies build links between fairness (distributive and procedural), behavior, and perceived value [88]. Procedural fairness refers to buyers’ perception of “the fairness of the supplier’s procedures and processes” [90].
Distributive fairness refers to a consumer’s perception of “the fairness of earnings and other outcomes that the consumer receives from its relationship with the producer and retailer” [90,91]. This relates to the consumer’s evaluation of the “benefits or rewards in proportion to consumer’s own relative efforts or inputs” [92]. In addition, some studies connect distributive fairness, consumer perception, and consumer food purchasing behavior [28]. Consumers perceive the need for a higher level of distributive fairness since consumers may perceive that the revenue distribution along agro-food chains is not fair [93].
However, consumers may wrongly estimate the share of farmers. Consumers have limited knowledge about food production and agro-food value chain organization. Previous studies also investigated the factors that influence consumers’ unfairness price perception [7]. They explain it under four groups, with different significance and immediacy in relation to the comparative transaction.
First, it is important to define the context of the comparative transactions. The context may include implicit and explicit information, but the consumers may not be capable of defining price fairness by processing those inputs. Consumers may not have the competencies to assess the seller’s cost structure and further relevant information adequately [21]. Therefore, a price fairness assessment is mainly based on comparative transactions, which include different contextual information. The similarity between transactions helps assess the price fairness. Second, the seller and the context may provide the information and the reasons supporting how the price was set and thus its price fairness. This will then influence consumers’ assessment [18]. Third, consumers are continuously exposed to various contexts and previous experiences. The information collected in other contexts will influence their judgement.
Fourth, consumers collect information, but may have their own perceptions and beliefs of the seller. These will set a basis for consumers’ judgement of price fairness. There are certifications of products reflecting honesty, respect, and trustworthiness of products for consumption. Certification of avoiding child labor, illegal hiring, gangmastering, Fairtrade, etc., is increasingly important, as this can influence consumers’ perceived value of fairness [55,56,57,85,86].
The fifth downstream enabling practice is “consumer food choice”. Fairness food attributes can be a driver of consumer choice, as consumers’ opinions over fairness influence their food choices. For instance, farms can expand their market sales by valuing the agro-food chain fairness attribute, for example, in farmer markets [14].

3.5. Consumer-Focused Business Approaches Related to Downstream Enabling Practices

Consumers play a key role in shaping the agro-food chain fairness downstream. Consumers’ fairness-oriented attitudes and food choices influence the implementation of fairness-oriented business practices among producers and retailers in the agro-food system. Thus, there is need to understand business approaches that influence how consumers conceptualize and perceive fairness. The pricing management practices of “dual entitlement” and “dynamic pricing” influence how consumers perceive fairness. There is need to carefully plan how to operationalize them, as they could ease or hinder consumers’ perception of downstream fairness-enabling practices. These two practices guide consumers on how they approach the concept of fairness, with specific focus on pricing mechanisms and consumers’ fairness perceptions.

3.5.1. Fairness Conceptualization through Dual Entitlement

A key concept in the fairness conceptualization is “dual entitlement” (DE). To connect the triangular nexus between DE, consumers, and fairness, it is necessary to focus on the consumers’ perceptions and behaviors. DE theory is one of the conceptual frameworks used to identify elements that may influence consumers’ fair price perceptions. The DE principle is a dominant rule for evaluation of the fairness of price changes introduced by companies [94].
DE theory purports that consumers and sellers are entitled to expect a reference price and a reference profit, respectively [95,96,97]. Consumers believe a price is fair if the production costs of farmers, processors, and retailers are covered. If the production costs decrease, consumers do not necessarily expect to have lower prices, since the consumer’s reference price is not affected. Thus, according to the DE theory, the sellers can increase prices when production costs rise, and do not diminish prices when production costs decrease. There is a common agreement that consumers are entitled to have a fair price, as well as the producers to have a profit. Consumers perceive a product as fair balancing all product attributes, including price fairness. Within the DE approach, consumers’ reference prices are the benchmark to assess the fairness of observed prices, and thus proceed with purchasing.

3.5.2. Fairness and Dynamic Pricing

Within the fairness debates, the issue of pricing strategies is often discussed. An increasingly popular pricing strategy is called dynamic pricing [98]. This pricing approach provides identical products and services at different prices to different consumers [7].
Dynamic pricing often means flexibly adjusting prices to match current market demand. It allows e-retailers, in particular, to adjust the price of an identical product (or service) to correspond with willingness to pay by the consumers. The dynamic price paid can trigger distributive (un)fairness perceptions and enrich this perspective by investigating the influence of pricing authority on the nexus between fairness and consumers’ behavioral reactions [99]. Nevertheless, it is important to note that little is known about the impact of dynamic pricing strategies on consumer perceptions and behaviors of price fairness [100].
Whether dynamic pricing is fair is debated. Some researchers and practitioners claim that dynamic pricing is fair [98] as it balances effectively supply and demand. It allows both the buyer and the seller to profit, if they are conscious of what to search. Nevertheless, some researchers believe that dynamic pricing is perceived as unfair and exploitative [18]. Past studies conceptualize that the actual price that customers have to pay after the transition to dynamic prices influences their perception of fairness, which impacts their repurchase intentions [101].
Past studies introduce a distinction between different dynamic pricing mechanisms: price-posted and price-discovery [102]. The former supports a dynamic pricing mechanism with frequent price changes that the buyer cannot modify. Thus, the company sets the final price. The latter foresees that consumers can set the price, as a result of a negotiated transaction between buyer and seller, such as auction markets. The price-setting mechanism allows consumers to feel control in price determination and thus perceive the price paid as fair [103]. Empowering consumers in setting prices contributes to their higher fairness perception.

3.6. Future Practices and Actions for a Sustainable and Fair Agro-Food Value Chain

The research suggests that a sustainable agro-food system should apply fairness value in agro-food chain relationships among downstream and upstream actors. A fairness-oriented approach may encompass the implementation of “fairness-enabling practices” based on ethical and economic dimensions. These practices are a map of how to achieve a fair and sustainable agro-food system, circular economy, and SDGs [1,104].
The attainment of SDGs and circular economy principles may include a number of possible fairness-oriented applications, such as ensuring that fairness-oriented business models replace existing ones; increasing supply chain transparency on supply chain ethics with fairness-labeled certifications; enabling fair, circular, socially responsible public and private procurement contracts; supporting regional and circular food production to ensure fairer incomes for producers; setting targets and indicators to demonstrate fairness-oriented performance; promoting fairness rather than growth as the key objective in new and existing business practices; ensuring availability and accessibility to fair products and services; using economic incentives and pricing mechanisms to avoid unfair practices; and promoting public policies to promote, fund, and set the rules for fairness-oriented initiatives [1,104,105].
As highlighted in the extensive review carried out, these applications are often promoted in new initiatives and start-ups that aim to ensure fairness and circular economy principles, such as the blockchain technology implementation. Academia and government policies should support these innovative initiatives boosting circular economy principles among agro-food chain actors, and, hence, sustainability.

4. Conclusions

The aim of the present study is to conceptualize the current literature on fairness in the agro-food system, and investigate the possible upstream and downstream fairness-enabling practices. It highlights the roles of business applications and models to achieve fairness in sustainable agro-food chains. Moreover, this research supports past literature establishing that a fair agro-food system contributes to sustainable development.
The definition of fairness concept is the first step of this study. The study maintains definition existent in the literature of three types of fairness: distributive fairness, procedural fairness, interactional fairness. Distributive fairness focuses on the fairness of outcome distributions and partner contributions [14,15,16,17,24,25,26,27,28]; procedural fairness deals with the procedures used by the price decision maker rather than the actual outcome achieved [34,35,36,37]; interactional fairness mainly focuses on the ethical dimension of fairness [43,44,45,46,47].
This research proposes that there is a connection between these three different types of fairness. Distributive fairness is the key goal to achieve, with the support of procedural and interactional fairness. Fairness in agro-food chains has a holistic structure, and distributive fairness should not be evaluated by itself. This conclusion has a critical role in determining upstream and downstream fairness-enabling practices, and in both cases, they are a combination of three types of fairness.
Upstream focuses on farmers, as the first actors of upstream chain, processors, and retailers, whereas downstream is mainly about consumers’ food choices and behaviors [4,5]. The upstream chain is mainly about production and supply, whereas downstream focuses on consumption.
The current research confirms past literature, as upstream fairness-enabling practices include many elements which aim to improve the position of farmers in the chain, from banning of unfair trading practices, to human treatment to farmers, from technology innovation, to ensuring farmers’ remuneration [49,50,51,52,53,54,55,56,57]. Any progress in the agro-food chain to provide these factors will contribute to overall sustainable development as well as increasing the welfare level of farmers. Since business applications and models can contribute to enable fairness, the research explored the existent applications aimed at fairness-oriented agro-food systems.
The present study extends the literature delivering a conceptualization of downstream fairness-enabling practices [86,87,88,89,90,91,92,93]. In particular, achieving success in the downstream operational stage of the chain depends on increased cost and price transparency, consumer food choice, consumer intention to buy fair food, consumer perceived value of fair food, and consumer behavior. Fairness food attributes may be a driver to consumer food choice. Consumers are a vital part of the fairer food chain. Therefore, each element that affects their food preferences and choices, food purchasing behaviors, and intentions also influences the fairness of the agro-food system, and, hence, sustainable development.
Promoting fairness-enabling practices should be part of a comprehensive agro-food system policy, encompassing the whole agro-food chain and ensuring the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) [1]. The current study findings contribute to achieving the SDGs upstream in the agro-food chain focusing on Goal 1: No poverty; Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth; Goal 10: Reduced Inequality; Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production; Goal 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institution. Agro-food downstream practices focus on Goal 12. All these practices and goals are also related to circular economy principles [106,107].
To conclude, the present research aims to support agro-food chain actors to learn how to find profit in fairness, and turn fairness-related costs into profitable business models [108,109]. It contributes to transforming the blurred concept of fairness into a visible and credible set of operating processes and food product characteristics. Moreover, this research provides an upstream and downstream chain perspective, useful for strengthening mutual understanding among chain actors.
Fairness implementation brings benefits to agro-food chain actors. In particular, it means being able to understand other chain actors’ position; strengthen suppliers’ and customers’ relationships; establish long-term relationship with other chain actors; ensure a fair income to all chain actors; have commercial partners to develop innovative projects; ensure resilient chain relationships in case of difficulty; gain a better reputation; strengthen company trust; obtain higher commitment of chain actors’ internal workers; and increase consumer loyalty.
These can turn into benefits at company level, such as: higher sales; trust in the organization; a new fairness-planning job position; internal change commitment; as well as at society level, such as accessibility to fairly priced food; organizational citizenship behavior; equity in society; food security; consumer–food production reconnection; social justice; and peaceful institutions and justice.
Finally, these research findings may encourage future studies and sectoral practices aimed at understanding and implementing the triangular connections between fairness in agro-food system, SDGs, and circular economy.

Limitations and Future Research

The present study has some limitations. First, the academic literature includes a limited number of studies addressing the definitions of fairness in the agro-food chains. The study initially focused on Web of Science and Scopus had to be expanded with grey literature and existent business applications. Thus, the study had to include non-peer-reviewed studies and experiences of practitioners. This shows that academic research still limitedly addresses the issue of fairness in agro-food system. Future research may develop further studies in this field. Appendix A provides some preliminary suggestions on how to develop the analysis. Second, studies in the field of fairness are mostly conceptual and the lack of commonly agreed data and quantitative studies to measure agro-food system fairness is remarkable. Future research may provide quantitative analysis by combining various econometrics and statistics approaches.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, A.S.; methodology, A.S.; validation, A.S.; formal analysis, Z.B.; investigation, Z.B.; data curation, Z.B.; writing—original draft preparation, A.S. and Z.B.; writing—review and editing, A.S.; visualization, Z.B.; supervision, A.S.; project administration, A.S.; funding acquisition, A.S. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


The research leading to this publication has received funding from the European Union PRIMA Programme and Italian National Funding of Ministry of Research and University through Gourmed project (Government of food supply chain to equilibrate price and profits of high-quality and safe Mediterranean foods) under grant agreement (Decreto Direttoriale) n. 1433 of 21 June 2021 (registered in Court of Auditors of 9 July 2021 n. 2093).

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not applicable.

Informed Consent Statement

Not applicable.

Data Availability Statement

Not applicable.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest. The funders had no role in the design of the study; in the collection, analyses, or interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript, or in the decision to publish the results. The publication reflects the authors’ views. The funding body is not liable for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.

Appendix A. Fairness in Business Models

There is a need to identify business models addressing fairness-oriented business trends and consumer needs. A value chain fairness-oriented business model innovation can comprise the development of (i) entirely new business models; (ii) the diversification into additional business models; (iii) the acquisition of new business models; (iv) the transformation from one business model to another. In all these cases, the key research questions to analyze a value chain focused on fairness are included in the table below.
Table A1. A conceptual framework for fairness-oriented business model innovation.
Table A1. A conceptual framework for fairness-oriented business model innovation.
Building BlocksDescriptionFairness
Value propositionProduct/Service, customer segments, and relationshipsDo the product/service, customer segments, and relationships enhance fairness? For example, do traceability for products and standards contribute to perceived fairness?
Value creation and deliveryKey activities, resources, channels, partners, and technologiesDo key activities, resources, channels, partners, and technologies focus on fairness aspects? Awareness of food-related ethics? Ethical consumption?
For example, distributive fairness, procedural fairness, interactional fairness.
Value captureCost structure and revenue streamsDo cost structures and revenue streams include fairness considerations?
For example, fair food systems based on distributive fairness, procedural fairness, interactional fairness.
Value intentionMind-set of owner-manager Is fairness a means, a goal, or something else? Is fairness enhancing or limiting the BM?


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Figure 1. Methodological framework of the study.
Figure 1. Methodological framework of the study.
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Figure 2. Price Fairness.
Figure 2. Price Fairness.
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Figure 3. Interrelations between the types of fairness.
Figure 3. Interrelations between the types of fairness.
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Figure 4. Agro-food chain upstream dimension and fairness-enabling practices.
Figure 4. Agro-food chain upstream dimension and fairness-enabling practices.
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Figure 5. Fairness-enabling applications and business models.
Figure 5. Fairness-enabling applications and business models.
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Figure 6. Business models for small-scale farmers.
Figure 6. Business models for small-scale farmers.
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Figure 7. Fairtrade business models.
Figure 7. Fairtrade business models.
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Figure 8. Agro-food chain downstream dimension and fairness-enabling practices.
Figure 8. Agro-food chain downstream dimension and fairness-enabling practices.
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Table 1. Academic and grey literature review sources identified.
Table 1. Academic and grey literature review sources identified.
Steps 1 and 2
Academic and grey literature
Google Scholar
International institutions’ websites
79 papers; 5 reports; 1 websiteKeywords:
Fairness, justice, agr*, chain
For Step 2 Upstream Agro-food chain focus: producer*, farmer*, fair price
For Step 2 Downstream Agro-food chain focus: consumer*, behav*
Step 3
Business applications
Google Scholar
International institution reports and websites
Website search
Consultancy reports
36 papers; 10 reports; 4 websitesKeywords
Fairness, justice, agr*, chain
For Upstream Agro-food chain: producer*, farmer*, fair price, blockchain, business model*, tech*, fair trade
For Downstream Agro-food chain: consumer*, behav*, dynamic pricing, dual entitlement
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Samoggia, A.; Beyhan, Z. Fairness-Enabling Practices in Agro-Food Chain. Sustainability 2022, 14, 6391.

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Samoggia A, Beyhan Z. Fairness-Enabling Practices in Agro-Food Chain. Sustainability. 2022; 14(11):6391.

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Samoggia, Antonella, and Zeynep Beyhan. 2022. "Fairness-Enabling Practices in Agro-Food Chain" Sustainability 14, no. 11: 6391.

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