Certify sustainable retailers?
Third-party eco-certification has received considerable attention by academics and practitioners alike as a new mode of sustainability governance. But there is growing evidence that certification faces a number of limits when applied to producers in developing countries, in particular the weak capabilities of small-holder producers to comply with the standards set out by these certification schemes. When these producers make up between 70% and 80% of the estimated 117 million fish farmers worldwide (Bondad-Reantaso & Subasinghe, 2013; Valderrma, Hishamunda, & Zhou, 2010), we can question how certification can meet its own goals of transforming industries towards sustainability. This chapter extends current debates over the capability of producers to comply with standards by arguing for an alternative certification arrangement. Instead of continuing with the current model of certification that places the ‘burden of proof’ for sustainability on producers, I propose a new form of retail-targeted certification that reverses this burden of proof. Under such a model, it is not small-holders who have to demonstrate sustainability, but instead the buyers and retailers who receive a disproportionate benefit from the marketing and trade of their fish. A retailer certification scheme would reverse this burden of proof by giving recognition and market reward to retailers adopting ‘developmental’ forms of value-chain coordination that foster inclusive and effective support for improving the production practices of small-holders. Such a model might be relevant for any globally traded commodity sector involving small-holder producers in need of (but unable to independently make) improvements towards sustainability.