Panel 12. Varieties of Southern Sustainability Initiatives: Exploring Conflict and Collaboration in Value Chains and Beyond

Multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) have increasingly gained importance in addressing sustainability challenges in global value chains. Many of them set global sustainability standards in an attempt to make local production processes of agricultural or natural resource-based commodities more sustainable, reduce environmental degradation and improve working conditions; for example, in soy, palm oil, cotton, cocoa, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture. The preeminence of such global governance initiatives in the public debate and academic research largely obscures the emergence of a variety of ‘Southern’ sustainability initiatives, which started in the early 2000s and has gained momentum over the past few years. Partially, Southern initiatives have been explicitly created in response to controversies around global MSIs, including a sense of exclusion and power imbalances marginalizing Southern interests and questions on context-specific relevance. These challenger initiatives are Southern sustainability standards with an explicit local character which present themselves as a rejection of, or as an alternative to global MSIs and their standards. As such, they contribute to enhanced multiplicity of sustainability standards in specific sectors but can also shift the focus from a global scope to the needs and priorities of specific countries. In addition, there is experimentation with new collaborative arrangements at the jurisdictional and landscape level in producer countries. These programs are ‘Southern’ multi-stakeholder initiatives with jurisdiction-wide sustainability goals. A high level of local government involvement is central to many of these programs, without implying that they are a form of government regulation or that they are confined to the local level. These initiatives cross scales and are conceived as arenas in which domestic and transnational governance interventions can be combined and reinforce one another. While these various forms of Southern sustainability initiatives are on the rise and have been identified as important trends in sustainability governance, we still know relatively little about their functioning and their ability to mitigate sustainability challenges.

This panel therefore invites contributions that address questions such as:

  • What drives the emergence of Southern sustainability initiatives in specific sectors, territories, and countries?
  • How are Southern sustainability initiatives governed and structured and what is innovative about them?
  • How do they mimic, diverge from, or interlink with established MSIs?
  • How do they position themselves vis-a-vis established initiatives and to what extent do they increase competition or enhance collaboration?
  • What is the effectiveness of Southern sustainability initiatives in making agricultural or natural resource-based commodity production more sustainable?\
  • What is their impact on small-scale producers, farmers and communities?