Robin Murray

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= Robin was a huge contributor to the movement for a cooperative commonwealth, and passed away at the end of May 2017, a huge loss for all those who knew him



"Robin Murray is an industrial economist. Currently a Senior Visiting Fellow at the LSE, he was a teaching Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies in Sussex for twenty years, prior to which he taught economics at the London Business School. Having specialised in industrial strategy, international corporate taxation and international commodity supply chains, his most recent work has focused on industrial restructuring in response to environmental pressures (notably waste and energy), on social innovation, and on the civil economy – particularly in co-operatives, with whom he has had considerable personal involvement.

During the 1980s and 90s, Robin acted as a consultant on industrial and development issues to a wide range of governments, serving as Director of Industry in the Greater London Council and later as a Director of Development in the Government of Ontario. This work led him to the conclusion that there was a major role that could be played in achieving social goals by mission driven third sector companies. In response, he co-founded Twin Trading, the fair trade company, in 1985, which now sells four branded products in the UK: Cafedirect, Divine Chocolate, Agrofair and Liberation Nuts. The company works with existing farmers co-operatives and supports the development of new ones, now supporting over 300,000 farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Robin has also established a range of environmental ventures, focused on the economy of distributed systems and their potential for environmental and social sustainability. He is co-founder of the environmental partnership Ecologika, whose members work in the fields of waste, energy, transport, food and health, which has played a major role in the re-direction of UK waste policy, and, with the Mayor’s office, helped to establish the London Climate Change Agency, a consultancy service for the retrofitting of Green Homes, and the development of city-wide plug-in hybrid vehicles. From 2004-5 he served as Director of RED, the innovation unit of Design Council, where he led the team working on public health.

He is a Fellow of the Young Foundation, for whom he co-authored two books on social innovation, and is currently working on a text on the Social Economy." (


“Robin Murray is an industrial and environmental economist. His recent work has focused on new waste and energy systems and on projects in the social economy. He was co-founder and later chair of Twin Trading the fair trade company and was closely involved in the companies it spun off, including Cafedirect, Divine Chocolate, Liberation Nuts and Agrofair UK. He has alternated working for innovative economic programmes in local, regional and national governments, with academic teaching and writing.” (

In Memoriam

An appreciation of his life by Hilary Wainwright

""I'm thinking of my friend, many people's friend, the great economist, Robin Murray who died yesterday. Robin exuded vigour and hope. And he infected those around him with his mood. Maybe as a resuIt I find myself resisting the sadness which threatens to overwhelm me now that he is gone. The tears well but they refuse to flow. The only respite is to ring several of our common friends for mutual comfort: Stephen Yeo, the inspiring historian of the co-operative movement in which Robin had a passionate and therefore active interest. Carlota Perez whose theory of technological change and it's connection with financial crisis he hugely admired and with whom he collaborated at the LSE. Mary Kaldor the theorist of war and of movements for peace with whom he taught Marxist economics at Sussex university. 'We didn't always agree' she says , but he loved debate. My niece Jessi who joined Murray breakfasts after a swim at the London Fields Lido in Hackney for which he and his beloved artist wife Frances campaigned after the nearby Haggerston baths were closed.

People and ideas. Even as he lay breathless with the terminal lung disease which led to his death, and under strict instructions from Frances not to talk too much, he would not be able to contain his passion for both people and ideas. They were his life force. He could not imagine living without talking about both, between sucking the means to do so from his oxygen machine. One evening's topic were the ideas of Allende's cybernetics advisor Stafford Beer and, more generally, the idea of the economy as a nervous system. At the same time, his starting point was always the cell, the dynamics of the particular , so he was forever fascinated by particular exemplary initiatives and how they worked, the conditions for their success so, between breaths, the conversation would turn to the burgeoning Japanese consumer co-operative movement. Or to the co-operative shop in his original home county, Cumbria, to which even as his illness advanced he devoted inordinate energy.

Above all he was perennially fascinated by people's stories, especially the stories of the young people in his family or helping with his care. The stories from his beloved and talented daughter, Beth and her Italian boyfriend Gianluca, of a visit to Gianluca olive-growing family in northern Italy, and of exactly how his father harvested and sorted the olives. Or of how my niece Jessi proposed to her boyfriend in a tent during a hike across a Himalayan pass.'I asked her to describe the exact moment '. He said afterwards. He was living for the moment as his illness took hold. But his irrepressible curiosity about what moments were important for other people was throughout his life, one of most endearing qualities.

Our most thrilling moments together were when he was was appointed to lead a small band of economic guerrillas who were brought into the GLC by Ken Livingstone, John MacDonell and Chair of the Industry and Employment Committee , Michael Ward, to draw up and help implement the London Industrial Strategy. He was a wonderful leader, with the self-confidence to enable maximum autonomy for the diverse cells of the 70 or so strong Industry and Employment Department. I led the Popular Planning Unit and although a few eyebrows were raised at our proposals – for example for the GLC to try (unsuccessfully as it happened) and buy the Royal Docks in order to implement the People's Plan for the Royal Docks (a community plan for an alternative to the City Airport) – Robin gave us constant encouragement. The politicians , Mike Ward along with Livingstone and MacDonell had won the space for new thinking and Robin was the ideal person to take it and recruit a team to grasp and push every opportunity.

And what a team! Robin was immensely proud of the people and their work together. I will write about this work later today for Open Democracy and post it here. Suffice it to say now that it is not surprising that our four years of intense work, axed by Margaret Thatcher in an act of political vandalism in 1986, should produce a wealth of ideas from which John MacDonell has been able to draw for Labour's persuasive manifesto that just could on June 8th, finally put an end to neo-liberalism nationally as Robin's London Industrial Strategy sought to defeat it in London.

This is just many of the examples of how Robin's legacy of hope will live on with us and through us. And why inspite of the sadness that this remarkable man with his indominitable spirit and generous enthusiasm will no longer physically be part of our lives, no longer welcoming us with Sunday breakfast, tears well but do not easily flow." (facebook, May 2017)

Pauline Tiffen on Robin's key role in the Fair Trade movement and the TWINS venture

The author was Director/worker at TWIN 1986-2000; written 4th June 2017

Pauline Tiffen:

"For Robin Murray - Memories and Legacy

In the manic days of an expiring, soon-to-be abolished Greater London Council, Robin Murray used his considerable clout and knack for outstanding visionary thought - he made wildly exciting ideas sound so obvious and easy - to channel funds into a new venture, to be dedicated to exploring ways to trade for mutual benefit through two new entities called Third World Information Network and Twin Trading.

Robin Murray founded Twin and Twin Trading in 1985, and initiated them with a series question-think-and-act workshops attended by like-minded men (it has to be said), and activists from around the world - Mozambique, Senegal, South Africa to name a few. All were hard at work challenging and attempting to find dignified liberation and economic survival in the face of the emerging neo-liberal onslaught. Once mocked as “Ken Livingstone’s foreign policy department”, the four-year forward funding was a license to go out and make a difference. Twin was a network from day one in a “pre-network era”. Later the accronym alone would stand as the name, as the world and our concepts of first, second, third worlds changed around us and the ideas of networking, matrix methodologies and the greater efficiencies of non-hierarchical forms and trust-based forms of organisation took hold. My first job at Twin was “Information and Network Officer” - can’t have been many of those around. Commonplace today, Robin opted for the then highly unusual interlinked structure of non-profit and for-profit companies, with a ‘self-perpetuating oligarchy’ to run them and keep them ‘true’.

This exemplified his strategic awareness of the importance and meaning of organisation formation, of form following content. This would play out again and again in the multiple, innovative and catalytic initiatives dreamed up and rolled out at the Twins - Cafedirect, Divine Chocolate, and later, Liberation Nuts.

Robin contributed in ways that cannot be measured to the unique governance of the embryonic Twins. He was the first to back the workers’ decision, led by then Director Richard Day , to capitalise our grant and earn money: a highly a-typical position for “lefties”. While we struggled a little over the use of the word “profit” versus “surplus” (with Michael Barratt Brown never quite able to use the former), it was a statement of our intention to live on beyond the grant, and be successful on our own terms politically, but viable.

As Director and worker for 14 years at the Twins, (and active on many Boards and governance structures since,) from Robin I learned many tools to support and defend social enterprises and the brave people in them. I have used these the world over. From Robin I learned the incredible and simple importance of taking good minutes. Robin’s attention to detail and his indivisible incorporation of the micro to the macro, and the relationship of our decisions to our values and principles was a critical factor in Twin’s and my evolution, particularly in moments of strife. He was meticulous and sometimes ruthless in holding people to account, socialising the ideas and decision making process, providing succour to those fighting within organisations - our own and our network - to sustain the vital commitments made in the face of opposition or retrenchment.

Robin was an adventurer. Twin was his ship. As Twin grew, its trading and ventures spun off, he delighted in the successes and, it is worth saying, in the failures. He saw opposition and crisis as opportunity. “When you are sunk, in a deep hole,” he would say in the many such moments along the way, “you have to do the hard work to decide which way you want to be facing when you climb out.” I cannot tell you how many times I have quoted this guidance! Robin’s day-to-day take on alternative business never strayed from the realities (and horrible dilemmas and challenges presented) but wove into these realities a search for and appreciation of a different feel and purpose. Robin was an economist with a fascination for numbers, but I doubt many in his profession would look not just at the credibility of the quantified outcomes, but at the very ‘aesthetic’ of a business plan. This was Robin’s way of testing the ‘rightness’ and ‘justice’ of a proposal and its implementation: its beauty. For Robin, failure to support and show solidarity to allies and comrades was ugly.

Robin, was supported and also challenged - something he relished - by a host of incredible minds and hearts around our Board table - Michael Barratt Brown, Teodor Shanin, Vela Pillay, Peter Robbins, Sandy Balfour to name but a few. He was particularly prescient about the dangers of mainstreaming Fair Trade, during the roll out of the modest and values-driven Stichting Max Havelaar in the Netherlands then led by Bert Beekman, into a series of national certification schemes for Fairtrade with a supranational oversight body. He foresaw the structural limitations, the co-optation, and the future defeats and warned against the surrendering the alternative economic nature of our project; in the words of Richard Day, our purpose was being “in but against the market”.

Twin’s early entry into the domain of branding and intellectual property with the launch of Cafedirect and Divine superceded the certification model Robin argued, adding and sharing equity value which otherwise accrued only to brand owners. He saw this as the source, in a postmodern economy, of a far greater leveraging power (with the increasing dominance of retailers and potential for connectivity with consumers) than other traditional capitalist and anti-capitalist mechanisms for control of pricing. Through trial and practice we realised that transformation/processing and working up the value chain - an early premise of economic development and even industrial strategy - could seldom deliver power or income to the weakest players in a global market. Yet Robin was one of the first, with Michael Barratt Brown, to see from the Twin experiment that alternative trade praxis generates new forms of change, dialectically, by opposition, by example, and, even more simply, competitively. Would or could Cadbury’s have switched to Fairtrade if we hadn’t created the sourcing conditions (the largest FT certified coop in the world) and challenged them head on in the supermarket shelves. Did Robin predict the ‘ditching’ of the label and co-optation of the messages we have seen (Sainsbury, Cadbury, Marks & Spencer) - yes he did. This was exciting for Robin, but we remain with imperfect solutions to this challenge.

As Director of Twin for more than a decade, I experienced the friendship, care and presence of Robin as a more or less permanent tutorial or post-doctoral viva! Challenging, supporting, and sometimes admiring: no business books or professional self-improvement courses for me from Robin. “I think you will like this,” Robin would say, dropping a copy of Le Roy Ladurie’s “Montaillou” on my desk (A portrait of life in a medieval village, an exposition of the universal and permanent role of beliefs and resistance in daily life, and a book sometimes subtitled “the promised land of error”). And, to Robin’s patient and generous tutelage, I must add here of course, Michael Barratt Brown (Reform and Realities, Zed, Short Changed: Africa and World Trade, Pluto Books) and Teodor Shanin (Peasants and Peasant Societies, The Awkward Class, The Idea of Progress).

Together Robin and I conceived of and produced a series of papers [circa 1998], funded by the Department of International Development. We organised debates on these key concerns and insights gleened from our practical work: on branding, on IP, on Fairtrade Certification structures, the uneven bargaining power of producers, asymmetrical access to information, and on what alternative multinationals should look like. These ideas were all ahead of the curve, typifying that amazing place Robin occupied in his life - active, passionate and determined in the here and now, constantly squeezing lessons from life to prepare for and mould the future. We have come far since then, and we are surrounded with multinationals that are ethical and committed to sustainability. This needs to be challenged and reshaped. The Pluto Educational Trust, of which I am a Founding Trustee together with Roger Van Zwanenberg, and which owns Pluto Journals (and 41% of Pluto Books), is preparing the launch a new Journal of Fair Trade in June 2018, to reclaim the best practices and values that contribute to mutuality and fairness in trade. Its companion, being launched this July, is the Fair Trade Initiative, a membership based organisation, with a network and website providing a forum and funnel for new work, ideas and outspoken debate. Robin’s Fair Trade papers are a model for where and how the Fair Trade Initiative and the Journal of Fair Trade aim to engage. In his honour, we will include these papers, and would welcome support to comment, and add and update these over the first few volumes. For more information about the Journal of Fair Trade and the Fair Trade Initiative email [email protected] or [email protected] To join the Initiative and for details on paying by PayPal, click here.

Robin Murray was an inspired and inspiring man. We are less supported and affirmed now he is not with us. I wish he were here, but I am sure our works and continued resistance would please him greatly." (June 2017)

Tim Crabtree of Schumacher College

"Occasionally in life we meet someone rather special, and Robin Murray was one of those people. We met at Schumacher College five years ago – Robin had helped to develop a Master’s programme in Economic for Transition with my colleague Julie Richardson, and I became a lecturer on the course in 2012. Like many, I had read his work since the 1980’s, knew of his work at the GLC, Sussex and as a founder of the Fair Trade movement, and was therefore rather in awe of Robin’s reputation. Yet as a person he turned out to be approachable, charming and humble – and soon he became a friend and mentor (though he wouldn’t have liked the latter description!) For me, his most notable quality was that he always wanted to know what you were thinking about, what you were engaged with at that time, and really wanted to explore those areas with you.

I am writing these recollections at Plum Village, a mindfulness practice centre in France established by the Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hahn. It feels appropriate as Robin was curious about my practice, came to early morning meditation when at Schumacher College and read one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s books that I sent. To me it reflects his seemingly limitless curiosity and desire to engage with others.

For many of our students, time with Robin was transformative. As soon as he arrived at Schumacher College he would head to the kitchen to help make supper and to talk to the students working there. At other times, he would he would go for long walks with students, always fascinated by their inquiries and always generous with his experience and expertise.

One of the themes that Robin was exploring was the way in which the economy could become more “organic”, mirroring the ecological processes we experience in nature. So, for example, instead of individual enterprises scaling up, the aim would be to connect together firms in mutually supportive networks. We discussed the way in which form in the economy emerges, the way in which these forms get “firmed up” and then how the firm as organism could remain “alive” and generative. Robin would talk of his experience with Latin American cooperatives and how their adoption of the principle of ongoing “formacion” was so important – that it is not just about coming up with innovative ideas and starting things up, but continuing to concentrate on maintaining and developing the culture and spirit of a company.

One of my favourite memories is of Robin giving a session on a course called Enterprise Live. He said that he just had 10 slides which would help him to talk about 10 principles of the social economy. Three hours later we all sat absorbed and entranced by Robin’s ideas and reflections. The bell for lunch rang and Robin turned to his tenth slide – which was divided into 10 sub-points! He suggested that we finish, but we all implored him to carry on – Robin talked for another 30 minutes finally bringing to close a wonderful session of insights distilled from over 50 years of innovation, entrepreneurship and insight, underpinned of course by his commitment to service and to creating a better and more just world.

I have lost a friend and someone I am proud to have thought of as a mentor – an inspiration not just because of his ideas and his pioneering activity, but because of his manner, his warmth and his generosity. We have lost a man who combined practical experience, probing intelligence and a gentle wisdom – truly an inspiration to so many."

Tim Crabtree, Plum Village, France, 3 June 2017

More information


Selected Publications

Murray, R. (2015) ‘Post-Post Fordism in the Era of Platforms’ New Formations, 84/85

Murray, R. (2015) ‘Prospects for innovation in the Co-operative Economy’, in Ed Mayo (ed) The Co-operative Advantage, Co-operatives UK 2015

Murray, R. (2012) ‘Global Civil Society and the Rise of the Civil Economy’ in Kaldor, M., Moore, H.L. and Selchow, S. (eds) Global Civil Society 2012: Ten Years of Critical Reflection, Palgrave MacMillan

Murray, R. (2011) ‘Raising the Bar or Directing the Flood’ in John Bowes (ed) The Fair Trade Revolution, Pluto

Murray, R., Caulier-Grice, J. and Mulgan, G. (2010) The Open Book of Social Innovation, NESTA and The Young Foundation

Murray, R. (2010) Cooperation in the Age of Google, Co-operatives UK

Murray, R. (2009) Danger and Opportunity: Crisis and the New Social Economy, NESTA

Murray, R., Caulier-Grice, J. and Mulgan, G. (2009) Social Venturing, NESTA and The Young Foundation