Good Practices and Innovations in Public Governance 2003-2011

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By demonstrating how substantially divergent views on what is appropriate governance relate to such political-economic positions, we are able to theorize why meta-governors proliferate and persistently attempt to govern PSO interactions in different ways.


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The empirical sections below describe the emergence of multiple meta-governance programmes in transnational private sustainability governance of the coffee and cocoa sectors and reveal the recurring interactions among meta-governors that result from it. As we will see, multiple meta-governance programmes arise as a result of divergent objectives among global retailers, large product brand owners, technical standard setters and professionals representing PSOs.

This leads them to different diagnoses of the challenges of PSO interactions, and to persistent support for different meta-governance solutions. This study uses a combination of deductive and inductive logic to specify the research approach, analyse the empirics and arrive at conclusions. For the study of the origins of multiplicity in meta-governance in transnational private sustainability governance, it focuses on the field of sustainable agriculture.

This is one of the key sectors discussed in transnational private sustainability governance literature, and one of the central concerns of ISEAL. Because of this focus, descriptive empirical claims can be examined deductively, in particularly testing the claim in literature that ISEAL is a central meta-governor. By researching in particular cocoa and coffee production in the agricultural sector, dynamics in two important and broadly studied commodities of transnational private sustainability governance are illuminated.

Through a focus on coffee and cocoa, causal claims of this study are developed inductively. An inductive research approach is considered appropriate since the phenomenon to be explained is new, deviant from prevailing expectations in the literature and currently under-theorized George and Bennett : On the one hand, for the purposes of the causal story, coffee and cocoa serve as representative commodities for the field of sustainable agriculture, where for most commodities three meta-governors exist side by side IDH, GSCP and ISEAL. Information on these initiatives and their interrelation therefore could be generalizable throughout the sector.

On the other hand, in both cocoa and coffee, additional meta-governance initiatives have arisen CEN and 4C, respectively. This means that coffee and cocoa serve as more extreme cases in terms of the value of the dependent variable proliferation of meta-governance. This makes generalizability and representativeness questionable, but importantly, it allows for more open-ended exploration of causal mechanisms underlying emergence of meta-governance initiatives Gerring : — For this reason, there is a wealth of within-case and across-case observations that may be used for analysis.

Process tracing is used next to comparative logic to inductively develop the causal argument about proliferation and duplication in meta-governance George and Bennett Process tracing serves the identification of decision-making processes and interactions in and among firms, CSOs, PSOs and meta-governance initiatives, as evidenced in the empirical narrative provided in subsequent sections. The analysis is based on 35 semi-structured interviews with representatives of meta-governors, PSOs, firms, CSOs and government, who were selected for their varying roles in setting up and participating in various meta-governance initiatives.

The majority of these interviews were conducted between May and July Additional interview material from to was used, adding further insight into the genesis of meta-governance arrangements. This material was originally gathered for a different research project on private sustainability governance, but respondents were asked broadly similar questions. Interviews were transcribed and then hand-coded for information allowing process tracing of decision-making and unfolding events among PSOs and meta-governors. Parallel to interviewing and interview data analysis, publicly available policy documents of all mentioned actors, dating between and , were studied and similarly hand-coded.

Insights from participant observation during four public professional workshops and conferences, attended between September and July , are used to further validate the observations taken from the data. An inductive set-up means that theory is generated, and the explanation follows from empirical analysis, rather than preceding it. The results serve as findings with regard to the selected cases and as propositions for a wider field of meta-governance of cross-border economic and sustainability issues.

While research partially relying on process tracing may not always allow us to fully rule out competing explanations that could have been unearthed as alternatives to the presented theory George and Bennett : — , empirical stages in the process leading to the outcome of analytical interest may be discussed in light of possible alternative theoretical interpretations. The empirical sections below will devote attention to such competing interpretations in some key stages of the narrative, and will argue that the inductively developed theoretical framework offers the most plausible interpretation.

Agricultural commodities have been subject to transnational private standardization inspired by four distinct agendas. First, beginning in the s, various standards emerged that raised the bar on food safety issues, as a result of increased consumer concern about health effects and about the increasingly global organization of food product chains, including, among others, the various good agricultural practices GAP now organized by the GlobalGAP standards body. Generally, this standard-setting process has been driven and controlled by the largest European and American retailers Wouters et al.

Second, agricultural chains have been subjected to attention from CSOs seeking to use cross-border trade as levers for more equity between Northern and Southern economic activity, and the application of social and environmental standards. The alternative trade movements that eventually led to the Fairtrade label began to work towards trading products under more equitable terms as early as the s, offering a price premium to small and poor producers in developing regions. The global organization of various national fair trade standards into the Fairtrade Labelling Organization FLO went hand-in-hand with this shift Raynolds and Long Third, environmental conservation groups contributed to private standardization.

Other CSOs concerned about the usage of pesticides and hormones developed organic labels for sustainably grown coffee. Organic labels proliferated nationally, and in the end became organized globally in the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements Auld Fourth, industry players that sought to respond to increased demands for corporate responsibility in food production also developed mainstream, industry-focused sustainability standards, together with CSOs that wanted to assist in mainstreaming sustainable production.

Utz Kapeh, later renamed Utz Certified, was developed by Dutch retailer Ahold alongside developmental NGOs and focused on large coffee roasters and retailers in Europe. Recently, the demand for biofuels spurred the development of standards for energy-producing crops, including commodities that can also be used as food ingredients Schleifer Subsequently, coffee, cocoa and tea became the most prominent products for standard proliferation and competition. Arguably the most substantial contribution to standard proliferation was made by fair trade- and corporate responsibility-inspired standards for socio-economic and environmental conditions of production.

Proposed modes of meta-governance cf. PSOs recognized similarities in approach and organization of standard setting across issue areas and sought a common platform to stimulate learning based on practice. In addition, PSOs sought an organization to represent their common interests on the governmental and intergovernmental level, and to private parties.

Since PSOs take a position somewhere in between the WTO, the ISO, the UN agencies and secretariats dealing with the environment and sustainable development, and bilateral and multilateral development donors, PSOs looked for representatives to defend and advance their positions in these forums.

Collaboration and learning was principally to be focused across sectors and issue areas, but potentially ISEAL would also be able to function as a springboard for harmonization and coordination among competing PSOs in specific sectors. The most eye-catching initiative along this line was the development of a discussion platform for sustainable agriculture certification, the Social Accountability in Sustainable Agriculture project SASA , which studied possibilities for harmonization among fair trade, organic and mainstream business standard labels and finished in Mutersbaugh These meta - standards or: standards about standard setting have directly applied to its members, and have also served as a template for appropriate standard setting beyond them Bernstein Currently, ISEAL meta-standardizes standard development, compliance assurance, standard governance and standard evaluation.

It has also recently agreed on credibility principles, which describe what core values underlie appropriate forms of private sustainability standard setting ISEAL a. By doing this, ISEAL arguably engages in market design as meta-governance: creating a divide within the market for PSOs between its own members and others, where the former is deemed to be more credible and leading in terms of fairness and effectiveness.

It therefore also organizes interventions aimed at increasing trust, as a mode of meta-governance that promotes PSO policymakers sense of belonging and like-mindedness. These organizations agreed not to criticize each other publicly anymore. In addition, they signed up for a pilot project involving shared training of auditors and a commitment to further investigate how to reduce the unhelpful consequences of implementation overlap at production facilities in various product categories. In terms of harmonization of the kind that could prevent overlapping monitoring and enforcement, the main barrier, respondents agree, has now become the difference in auditing systems, with Utz and RA relying on quite similar accredited third-party audit companies, while FLO is sticking to its own auditing organization FLO-Cert.

However, as respondents also note, the peculiar organizational structure of ISEAL creates a dilemma with regard to coordination of both a network-design and a market-design type. As a membership organization, it cannot run too far ahead of its base. Since many PSO members consider it appropriate to defend their unique features in comparison with their competitors, ISEAL staff cannot develop coordination efforts that are too isomorphic. ISEAL staff needs to stay within the boundaries of establishing what is good practice and ask its members to abide by this.

Finally, donor organizations are significant. The vast majority of full ISEAL members currently depends on financing from governmental and intergovernmental development donors. ISEAL itself also receives substantial funding from such sources. Indirectly, among other things, these donors promote impact evaluation, so PSOs must have something to show for their efforts at the farm, plant and factory levels in terms of sustainability. In terms of PSO competition, donors also require continued commitment and progress towards reducing the harmful consequences of standard proliferation.

Baseline standards are new standards describing appropriate sustainability practices in production. What makes them a market-design mode of meta -governance efforts rather than merely PSOs, which are a first-order form of sustainability governance, is that they are established to influence existing relevant private standards and as such affect transnational private sustainability governance at large.

They therefore on the one hand attempt to put a normative floor under voluntary retail and brand firm efforts towards sustainable agriculture. Baseline standards can thus prevent a race to the bottom in standards from going too low, while increasing the scope of sustainability standard compliance in an industry.

As such it is also a form of meta-governance suited for actors concerned about widening the scope of governance, and hoping to facilitate wider uptake of private standards. Meanwhile, PSOs and their most enthusiastic CSO and business supporters might be concerned that firms adopt baseline standards as a stand-alone solution to sustainable production, reducing demand for existing PSOs that have more stringent standards.

This is an issue of supply chain security. We do not have to emphasize the moral aspect of it; it is about doing good business. Where will all our coffee and cocoa be when we need to sell it to expanding markets in Asia and Latin America? For us, sustainability standards are also of use because they increase quality and yield of the product. The farmer is then also happy; he produces more and receives a higher price for it. As a result, global food brands push two agendas in terms of meta-governance that both serve the purpose of securing supply chains.

First, brands seek the development of baseline standards. Such standards will make it possible for farmers to become certified more easily, at lower cost, according to standards that may substantially claim to do away with the most serious sustainability issues, while generating economic benefits for farmers. Such baseline standards could then potentially function as stepping stones for farms to subsequently graduate to more demanding certifications by Utz, RA or Fairtrade.

In their quest for baseline standards, brands are aided by technical standards professionals. A veritable industry has emerged of professionals developing, monitoring and consulting on standards for technical and quality conformance assessment. These professionals are increasingly used for governance of production and services. The main international institution for developing and maintaining such standards is ISO.

Over the past two decades, sustainability standards have remained outside of the sphere of influence of ISO and technical standards professionals. Sustainability standards emerged as a result of civil society and industry activity.

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Professional auditors were the only party occupying both standard worlds. Recently, however, ISO has also ventured into corporate responsibility issues by developing a social responsibility standard, SR This move is interpreted as part of an ambition for developing this niche for business standard setting further, so that standards professionals can engage further in standard setting, certification, accreditation and advisory services.

The aim was to discuss the establishment of a common baseline code of conduct that could function as a first step for the mainstream coffee industry towards a more sustainable supply chain. Or, is it a competitor to PSOs? Is it a first-order type of governance, or a second-order type of meta-governance? Could brands use 4C as a lenient alternative to existing and substantially more demanding PSOs?

By , over , tons were 4C-certified by these two brands Kolk In comparison, for that year total worldwide Utz- and FLO-certified volumes were , and , tons, respectively. Nor does 4C opt for a product label that would communicate to a consumer audience that coffee had been grown and traded sustainably.

But through pilot projects with RA and Utz, and the involvement of coffee-certifying PSOs on its advisory board, 4C has emphasized the stepping stone character of its endeavour. ISEAL has not produced any policy statements that promote or discourage the use of baselining as a tool for meta-governance as a result of the emergence of 4C. On the basis of the discussion of events in coffee thus far, we might be tempted to consider the relationship between ISEAL and 4C not so much as rivalrous and politically contentious, but as complementary although the relationship between 4C, and ISEAL members RA and FLO might be more complicated to define.

It shows an evolution in political positioning, revealing a tension between ISEAL and its members on the one hand, and emergent baseline standards on the other. In , the Danish Standards Foundation DS issued a tender for a European-level process for standardization of traceable and sustainable cocoa.

This meant that the European Committee for Standardization CEN would start up a consultation process, researching the desirability and feasibility of such standards, and asking the opinion of its national standardization agency members such as DS and their stakeholders. CEN is the European counterpart to ISO, and as such is formally a nongovernmental organization; it is, however, the only organization mandated by the EU to develop private standards within its legal space CEN DS DS motivates the tender with reference to cocoa stakeholders that have communicated to DS that they are confused by standard fragmentation.

For this research, no interviewees were willing to verify on record that they were among the stakeholders offering input to DS, but all respondents consulted assumed that such input was given by chocolate brands. On behalf of them, ISEAL publicly lobbied against the proposal, and issued a statement summing up the main perceived disadvantages of the CEN process: the creation of a standard that is less stringent than existing sustainability standards; the confinement of standardization to Europe, where cocoa is a globally produced and sold good; the development of a noninclusive standardization process; increased consumer confusion; and the diversion of attention and important resources of key stakeholders from the process of advancing sustainability in the industry.

Given the status of CEN as EU standardizer and its perceived legitimacy among government policymakers and industry players, these groups want to be included in formulation of the new baseline standard. The standards will include criteria on sustainable production, traceability of products and appropriate conformity assessment Steijn Currently, ISEAL is one of the parties giving input in a multi-stakeholder and multi-expert development process that will lead to meta-standards that functionally duplicate—but most likely slightly deviate from—its own effort to meta-govern appropriate standard setting.

And a concern for the future for ISEAL may be that whether other meta-governance attempts will emerge from the technical standards realm that may lead to duplicate meta-governance for other commodities. As such, the discussion of meta-governance in cocoa reveals that ISEAL does not welcome all new meta-governance initiatives with open arms. Contrary to expectations in literature that would interpret meta-governance as complementary Abbot et al. The aim is to reduce overlapping PSO efforts, for instance, through joint training programmes of auditors, joint capacity-building programmes for producers seeking to get certified, mutual acceptance of audits and sharing of information of audit results.

The emergence of a second roundtable effort can be explained by divergent interests of actors in scaling up sustainability of coffee. And the persistence with which actors promote their own version of roundtabling appears at odds with a rational problem-solving approach that would predict actors looking for efficiency and effectiveness in meta-governance. The aim is to scale up sustainability standard setting for international production.

IDH is a discussion and experimentation forum addressing barriers to the scaling up of standards, including capacity building and the reduction in competition among PSOs. Different chapters of IDH focus on different sectors and their sustainability challenges. The participants within IDH chapters are predominantly brands, retailers and business interest groups, in collaboration with CSOs.

IDH was awarded a sizable sum of money million euros by the Dutch government, which it uses to match the additional equivalent investment of business players in scaling-up programmes IDH a. Because of this, IDH has suddenly become a sizable player in the European development aid funding market.

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If we want to increase the speed of certification of supply base, we find private standard organizations here to be the problem rather than the solution, because they each stick to their own programs and approaches. So they need to come to agreements that do away with inefficiencies and counter-incentives. I can understand why ISEAL would be moving slowly in terms of having standard setters adjust to each other.

But we would like for things to move faster. Industry players now have both 4C and IDH as meta-governance routes towards scaling up sustainability in their coffee supply chains. ISEAL and Utz representatives, however, also refer to IDH—with regard to its capacity building and funding ability—as a helpful partner in moving sustainability in production chains forward.

From a problem-solving perspective, this may be explained as a rational decision: actors prefer meta-governance initiatives that work best, and as a result this initiative then dominates over a less effective and efficient one. For this reason being mindful of political contention in the interrelation between these two meta-governance efforts is arguably most appropriate in order to judge its further evolution. Rather than a direct concern for the sustainable future of the supply chain, most important drivers for engaging in meta-governance for retailers like Wal-Mart and Tesco are the expectations of the final consumer and the requirements of the law in consumer markets.

If consumers or governments make particular demands about aspects of products, retailers need to respond to them. They will seek to prevent reputation damage or litigation.

The politics of meta-governance in transnational private sustainability governance | SpringerLink

Proliferation of and competition between PSOs is a nuisance because this makes such expectation management difficult. Firm representatives then proposed that CIES would pioneer the development of a similar model for sustainability issues in production. GSCP offers an equivalence process, a market-design approach for which PSOs are invited to go through an analysis of how their model compares to reference standards.

This benchmarking exercise results in scores, making PSOs substantially comparable for outside audiences, which may decide how preferable a PSO is based on its conformity to or deviation from a reference standard. This means that businesses, CSOs, governments and other parties can decide to adopt or promote a PSO based on its score in the equivalence process.

Second, by showing what PSOs have in common, parties that are dealing with the dilemma of standard multiplicity, such as buying firms, can more easily manage a diversity of sustainability requirements. In the short term, benchmarking can thus reduce confusion. In the long run, benchmarking can also lead to a race to the top, enthusiasts claim. This is the case if PSOs seek to score better than their competitors in comparison with the reference standards. Important in the establishment of an equivalence process is the question of the substance of the different reference standards.

The common assumption is that these have a baseline quality, but one may debate how high this bar is set. The publication of the first reference document, containing a code for labour practice, led to criticism of activist groups, pointing at inconsistencies in the provisions on freedom of association, wages and working hours CCC The assurance aspect of the reference tools is also less specific than the ISEAL standard of good practice. Very few brands or PSOs can do without the cooperation of these retailers, which cater to a sizable part of the end consumer market.

What was evident was that global, powerful retailers were involved, in a development process largely excluding CSOs and that Wal-Mart, not known for its impressive sustainability track record, was among the initiators. This raised suspicion of a hijacking of standards by powerful business giants. ISEAL and its members have reservations about other organizations ranking or scoring their efforts at governance relative to each other. I get asked so often to inform a third party of how [my PSO] compares to competitors.

This is really a lot of work, it drains resources. I also have to trust that this third party will use the info to create a fair and balanced comparison. This paper has focused on meta-governance of coordination problems among competing PSOs that govern sustainable practices across borders. This meta-governance, as identified in the literature, is peculiar because it is predominantly performed by nongovernmental actors. But contrary to assumptions in existing studies, it is not determined by a single nongovernmental meta-governor ISEAL. Rather, meta-governance is performed by a multitude of overlapping and sometimes inconsistent meta-governance initiatives, which mostly focus on quite similar modes of meta-governance, combining network-design with market-design instruments.

This paper has sought to explain this phenomenon of nongovernmental meta-governance multiplicity and duplicity. Prevailing theories of PSO interactions have difficulty accounting for this phenomenon. This is because meta-governance initiatives often discard the option of convergence, coordination or efforts at creating complementarity among themselves, which would be what problem-solving-focused and sociological-ideationally focused studies would predict.

Meta-governance initiatives are developed by actors with different positions in production chains and different priorities in PSO coordination, and therefore also different approaches within modes of meta-governance, which they seek to govern among a coalition of likeminded actors. Retailers therefore create their benchmark programmes in consideration of final markets, while brands pursue scaling up strategies with an eye on supply chain security, and PSOs pursue standards for appropriate standard setting to boost their credibility and external support.

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