Transformative capacities of global private sustainability standards

Published on
August 13, 2015

Glasbergen, P. & Schouten, G. (2015). Transformative capacities of global private sustainability standards: a reflection on scenarios in the field of agricultural commodities. Journal of Corporate Citizenship, no. 58, June 2015: 85-101. 

Since the mid-1990s, private sustainability standards and certification schemes have aimed to introduce a new paradigm in the trade of agricultural commodities. However, there is still a lot of uncertainty about the transformative capacity of these arrangements. This paper discusses three plausible scenarios for the future of governance in the field of sustainable agriculture: leaving it to the market; bringing the state back in; and new forms of meta-governance. These scenarios are evolving concurrently but also build upon each other. Contingencies that are important are consumer power, the proliferation of corporate social responsibility, and the enclosure of new markets for sustainable products. It is concluded that, because of their limitations, none of the scenarios will be able to realise a system change on its own.