Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to provide an account of the development and implementation of social accounting at the UK fair trade organisation Traidcraft plc. Design/methodology/approach – Using an ethnographic approach, the paper critically reflects on the role of this emerging form of accounting in an ongoing intra-organisational struggle for meaning within Traidcraft over the management of its “fair-trade” business. Findings – The paper argues that the implementation of a formal system of “social bookkeeping” largely failed to achieve its intended objective to further augment the organisation's accountability relationships with its key stakeholders. However, in the context of organisational change, the accounting intervention was nevertheless significant, in a quite unexpected (and possibly undesirable) way. Along with a number of other intra-organisational factors, the intervention produced a decisive, management-led change within the organisation towards a more commercial interpretation of its religious principles, which the organisation termed “New Traidcraft”. Originality/value – The paper contributes to the change/appropriation debate surrounding corporate social reporting by providing insights into the complex range of political, functional and social factors that may influence the outcome of social accounting interventions. The paper also provides evidence to support the argument that social and environmental accounting interventions can be influential (if not necessarily desirable) when they are aligned with substantive changes in the organisation itself.