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Evaluate the Role of Citizens in Ensuring Justice

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This essay will consider the role of citizens in two areas of justice: environmental justice and trade justice. Environmental justice will be examined specifically in relations to the issue of sound pollution (Open University, 2015c, p.31). Secondly, the role of citizens in ensuring trade justice will be examined. This can relate to the notion that all trade should have fair and equal access to trading markets (Open University, 2015e, p.21).

Sound is environmental pollution that occurs as a result of an individual exercising their right to positive freedom, the right to exercise their liberty free from constraint (Open University, 2015a, p.59). In this case, sound pollution may differ in definition depending on the context and the type of sound. It has been demonstrated that people are much more tolerant of some sounds that they deem necessary, such as traffic noise. However, noise also impinges upon individuals’ right to a peaceful existence (Open University, 2015c, p.31). There are a number of health benefits associated with a low level of background noise, and it is clear that restraints should be considered in terms of how far someone has the right to affect this (Open University, 2015c, p.41).

Given the definition of what constitutes noise may varies between different people, ages and cultures, it is impossible to have a standard rule that should apply in all cases of sound production (Open University, 2015c, p.44). People accept that there is likely to be environmental noises: even the tranquillity of the countryside involves farming machinery and that they cannot control this sound production (Open University, 2015c, pp.23-24). Furthermore, it seems problematic to have sanctions against noise when this does not affect other people (Open University, 2015c, p.44). In justice terms, therefore, the approach may be concerned with ensuring that people have the freedom to make noise as long as this does not impinge significantly upon other people’s rights to peace, within reason (Open University, 2015a, p.59). Given the definition changes of what noise might be regarded as problematic varies between people, it would seem this could be left to the judgment of those affected. It is accepted that some level of background noise is acceptable when it is unavoidable and has some benefit, such as building work. Other uses of sound, such as playing music at a high volume might be regarded as less acceptable: it offers some benefit to the person, but such benefits can still be achieved at a lower volume or through the use of headphones.

A drawback with the use of citizens in ensuring such justice is that it requires negotiation between different parties, and there may be individual differences between what people perceive is acceptable or unacceptable (Open University, 2015c ,p.44). There is a greater expectation for quiet and privacy today than in the past, but many buildings are poorly insulated against noise transmission and therefore even a low level of sound in a home can be disturbing (Open University, 2015c, p.44). The onus is placed upon the individual who believes that the noise is disturbing in arguing their case and there is also a responsibility of the person who produces the noise to respond sympathetically (Open University, 2015c, p.78). Therefore, where there are disagreements concerning the appropriateness of noise production, there may be tensions; for example, practising a musical instrument may be noise pollution to some people but may be regarded as necessary for work for another.

In such cases some further arbitration with the requisite requirements of what constitutes a ‘reasonable’ balance between noise production and peaceful existence (Open University, 2015c, p.77). Where noise is predictable and easily measured, such as in homes close to an airport, zoning regulation that controls the level of noise at different times of day should make a difference (Open University, 2015c, p.77). Therefore, there are contexts in which citizen’s involvement in ensuring justice may be exhausted. Nevertheless, for noise produced in the neighbourhood, citizens play an important role in regulating their noise production or tolerating a level of noise deemed acceptable, and this informs the guidelines or legal enforcement that may develop to regulate the soundscape.

Citizens have been argued to have a role in ensuring fair trade by purchasing goods that hold the ‘Fairtrade’ label (Open University, 2015d, p.5). It has been argued that access to markets is disproportionately available owing to the fact that there is limited protection to short-term market fluctuations (Open University, 2015d, p.5). This is particularly acute in some goods such as sugar, coffee, tea and chocolate, which are largely produced in poorer countries (Open University, 2015d, p.7). Fairtrade guarantees a minimum market price depending upon certain conditions. For example, farmers involved in the conditions need to invest some of the profit into community projects, adhere to a number of ethical guidelines and environmental practices (Open University, 2015d, p.9). By using the fair trade label, the organisation informs consumers that they are buying a good that supports such communities. Therefore, citizens support the aim of the organisation by changing their purchasing behaviour accordingly. Through their consumer behaviour, citizens believe they are helping producers receive a more equitable distribution of resources (Open University, 2015b, p.56).

There are two drawbacks to the Fairtrade process. The first is whether this is effectively a form of citizen justice or whether this is simply a type of conspicuous consumerism (Open University, 2015d, p.15). As many Fairtrade goods are more expensive than equivalents, they are perhaps a way that consumers attempt to show off their environmentalist credentials conspicuously rather than for this being the primary basis for their behaviour (Open University, 2015d, p.15). However, there is also the question of whether this matters: one argument is the more people buy Fairtrade goods, the more lucrative this market will be, and the lower this price differential will be. Therefore, although initially this serves as a symbolic boundary between Fairtrade consumers and others, price is a more significant determinant for consumers to make their decision (Open University, 2015d, p.17). Therefore, the decision of some supermarkets to make their own-brand teas hold the Fairtrade label may be an example that the label does not preclude participation to the wealthiest

A second issue that might consider whether citizens have a role in the Fairtrade process is whether the framework is a success: does this provide a better option for agricultural producers than other methods (Open University, 2015d, p.25). In the Fairtrade model, there is little attention paid to the working conditions of casual labourers, and research has demonstrated that for most workers, there is no difference at all between working on a Fairtrade farm and non-Fairtrade farm (Open University, 2015d, p.41). It has also been argued that intervention on this scale might affect the workings of the open market which uses price to create incentives to efficiency (Open University, 2015d, p.54). However, Fairtrade allows poorer farmers to avoid being victims of seasonal price fluctuations that might occur after sowing by guaranteeing them a price each year. Nonetheless, these benefits are initially strong for farmers, but research has shown these benefits are short-lived (Open University, 2015d, p.59).

In conclusion, there is clearly a role for citizens in justice for both the issues of environmental sound and in Fairtrade. In environmental sound, given the subjective assessments of what constitutes noise pollution and different ideas of what the right to tranquillity involves, citizens have an active role to play. However, for some aspects of noise pollution such as industrial or transportation noise, or where there is no agreement between citizens, this issue may be more effectively resolved by government intervention. In Fairtrade, citizen involvement can have some effect in mitigating the negative effects of the market, but perhaps represents one way in which development can be assured in poorer countries. Therefore, there is clearly a role for citizens in justice, but there are limits to the impact of this involvement.


Environmental justice and trade justice are two areas in which citizens can play a role. In environmental justice, the right to tranquillity against the right to produce noise can depend upon subjective factors. Where the noise is unavoidable and involves benefits, tolerance may be higher. Where the noise level can be reasonably controlled, such as playing music on a loudspeaker, tolerance may vary. Zoning, where industrial or transport activity is regulated to reduce noise level can occur in some areas. Therefore, citizens help identify nuisances, but regulations and enforcement may be required.

Citizens may play a role in ensuring trade justice. Fairtrade is a system whereby a minimum price is guaranteed for farmers in return for investment in community projects or environmental methods. Consumers may buy Fairtrade products to ensure a fair price for producers. This has been criticised as a type of conspicuous consumption, but it has also received the support of retailers, allowing for a more inclusive role. Secondly, the impact of Fairtrade has been questioned: it is based on a model of family farms and does not take into account the conditions of casual workers. However, as it allows minimum price, it can offer some benefit to small-scale producers. Therefore, in both cases there is a role for citizens in ensuring justice.


Open University (2015a). DD103, Week 13- Introducing Common Resources and Rights. Available at WEBPAGE, [accessed 30th July, 2017].

Open University (2015b). DD103, Week 20- Exploring Boundaries, Available at WEBPAGE, [accessed 30th July, 2017].

Open University (2015c). DD103, Week 23 -Managing the Soundscape, Available at WEBPAGE, [accessed 30th July, 2017].

Open University (2015d). DD103, Week 24- Fair Trade: Bridging Boundaries, Available at WEBPAGE, [accessed 30th July, 2017].

Open University (2015e). DD103, Block 4- Review and Consolidation, Available at WEBPAGE, [accessed 30th July, 2017].

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