Introduction to Global Commodities Law

Key information

Module not running
Module code
FHEQ Level
School of Law

Module overview

This module provides a critical introduction to the legal regulation of global commodities, with a focus on the colonial histories of Asia, Africa and the Americas. Taking some of the world’s most heavily exchanged primary commodities as examples, we will track the development of their production and consumption, from their domestic origins to their circulation in the global sphere today. The histories of the principle commodities – such as coffee, cocoa, rubber, oil – tell the story of today’s global economy in microcosm. Most significantly, their evolving regulation has provided the base for many central elements of the contemporary international and transnational legal architecture. Examples of the regimes we example include the WTO GATT and various international commodity agreements. In exploring this history, we will also touch on cross-cutting issues relating to human rights, trade law, environmental law, food security, investment arbitration, anti-slavery, labour law and animal welfare law. We will also be looking at theories of consumption and production more generally, to enrich our discussions of these topics.

Students are expected to undertake a significant amount of preparatory reading each week in order to cover the substantive material on every topic. Lectures will draw out the connections between the various aspects of the historical development of each commodity, while tutorials will focus on the application of various theories to each topic.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  • Show an understanding of the legal regimes pertaining to the current trade in global commodities;
  • Demonstrate a broad understanding of the historical role of European and Asian colonial practices on the development of the global commodity trade;
  • Show an understanding of the impact that contemporary regulation has on the production and consumption of commodities around the world;
  • Have an appreciation of the feminist, Marxist and critical race theory that informs existing scholarly analysis of the trade in global commodities.


  • Weekly 2 hour lecture
  • 1 hour tutorial (please see syllabus for details of when tutorials are scheduled)

Method of assessment

Formative Assessment

In-class mock exam, with in-class feedback

Summative Assessments

Unseen Written Examination: 100%

Suggested reading

  • Ferdinand Braudel, ‘Wheels of Commerce’ in Civilization and Capitalism: 15th -18th Century Vol. 2 (1982) 374
  • John Darwin, The Empire Project: the Rise and Fall of the British World System 1830-1970 (Cambridge, 2009)
  • William Gervase Clarence-Smith, ‘The Commodity Chain’ in Cocoa and Chocolate, 1765-1914 (2000) 1
  • Steven C. Topik and Allen Wells, ‘Retrospect and Prospect: The Dance of the Commodities’ in Steven C. Topik and Allen Wells (eds), The Second Conquest of Latin America


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules