Third‐Party Certification in the Global Agrifood System: An Objective or Socially Mediated Governance Mechanism?

Sociologia Ruralis (Impact Factor: 1.36). 02/2008; 48(1):73 - 91. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9523.2008.00453.x


Third-party certification (TPC) is becoming an integral component of the global agrifood system. However, little is known about its functions, structures and practices. In this article we examine the emergence of TPC as a governance mechanism, its organisational structure, and its practices. Distinguishing between two forms of ‘independence’– organisational and operational – we argue that TPC exhibits organisational, but not operational independence. Thus, in contrast to the view of TPC as an objective governance mechanism, we argue that TPC is embedded in social, political and economic networks. This finding, we argue, raises questions as to how TPC is structured and operates, who gets to decide the ways it is structured and operates, and the ways that TPC might differentially impact on actors in the food and agricultural sector.

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    • "It should be observed that international harmonization not only challenges the principle of autonomy (constructed locally or by social networks) so heavily emphasized by the groups involved in participatory ecolabeling. In a study with independent bodies in the United States, Hatanaka and Busch (2008) show that disagreements exist over how the interaction between general and local norms in third-party certification should unfold. One of the points of dispute is that these institutes have to be accredited by international bodies. "
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    ABSTRACT: This article explores the emergence of ecolabeling of organic products in the context of the contemporary debate on global risks related to food production and consumption, focusing in particular on the implications for smallholder farming in Brazil. Independent certification is sustained by technical and bureaucratic mechanisms, sanctioned by international organizations and multilateral agencies whose power structures encourage the production of rules and systems of enforcement. By contrast, local food movements and civil society initiatives point to the emergence of alternative, participatory forms of ecolabeling. These local organizations have come up with new ways of constructing collective quality seals and assurances for products. They have spurred debates on the technologies, power structures and risks associated with corporate agriculture, large-scale pesticide use and chemically grown produce. As an alternative, ecolabeling requires a multi-level articulation of smallholder farming, food cooperatives and farmer markets, in order to create a local certification system for eco-sustainable produce and maintain the sustainability of traditional modes of existence of small farmers. Grounded in a long-term ethnographic study among ecological family farming in the western region of Santa Catarina, Brazil, this paper examines ecolabeling legal frameworks both globally and locally. It highlights the complexity of the eco-labeling process in Brazil, a context where diverse farmers' movements, non-governmental organizations and technical and State political actors grapple with questions relating to the social and economic values of sustainable organic agriculture. The data presented here is based on bibliographical, documental research and analysis of laws, decrees and norms. The study examines the recent historical process involving certification rules and regulations, especially those affecting agriculture. It also surveys the literature on the topic, bringing to light interpretive variations and other cases offering a contrast to Brazil's experience.
    07/2015; 8(6). DOI:10.5539/jsd.v8n6p196
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    • "Management studies are reductive in their approach to organics. Political and economic changes " have increasingly constrained the capability of states to regulate food and agriculture, " and more and more, the state is cooperating with both corporations and private regulatory bodies (Hatanaka and Busch 2008:74-76). In sum, a universalized " trust " concept and a functionalist credibility–trust relation have been brought to bear in the study of organics. "
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    ABSTRACT: ABSTRACT. Our purpose was to qualify the relations between trust, credibility, and the field of organics by way of creating a dialogue between two independent Organic Research, Development and Demonstration Programme “MultiTrust” subprojects. Both projects explore the explanatory value of trust and credibility for the success of organic labels in the fields of management research and media research. Our key objectives were to critically scrutinize the trust and credibility constructs applied in each of these two fields, to reflect on their explanatory value in the performance of organics from both a management and media perspective, and to set out an agenda for future interdisciplinary research. We conclude that relations between organic products, labels, and consumers are still poorly understood, that the belief in organic labels’ direct impact on consumer choices in favor of organic food purchase cannot be supported, and that the explanatory value of trust for the success of organic production remains unproven. We propose for future research to investigate the relevance of credibility and trust for organics in multidisciplinary mixed-methods studies that focus on the emergence of trust, as well as on other social factors impacting the success of organic production. This would best be achieved through interdisciplinary work.
    ECOLOGY AND SOCIETY 01/2015; 20(1):6. DOI:10.5751/ES-07169-200106 · 2.77 Impact Factor
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    • "The incorporation of expert scientific knowledge in the definition of principles and standards create what Eden (2009) refers to as a 'credibility alliance' between science and certification systems; legitimating their content as well as the process through which they are created. Scientific knowledge is also used by certification systems when principles and standards are operationalized into verifiable indicators, and also as technical expertise in the verification or auditing process (Hatanaka and Busch, 2008). At each step credibility is built and backstopped by the wider scientific institutions of peer review, on which the knowledge about the issues being standardised is based, and the presumed independence of scientists and their organisations. "
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    ABSTRACT: Certification is widely seen as an innovative strategy for dealing with environmental problems in supply chains. As the number of labels available in the fisheries sector has increased, each with its own framing of sustainability, questions are being asked about their credibility. In tuna fisheries, contrasting approaches have led to conflict over, among other things, the credibility of competing labels. This paper investigates one such conflict between the Dolphin Safe and the Marine Stewardship Council certification schemes in the West and Central Pacific. It looks at how key practices like scientific rigour, inclusiveness, transparency/openness, impartiality/independence and impact contribute to label credibility and explains the importance of authority in understanding how certification schemes maintain influence within global production networks. The results demonstrate that despite substantially different levels of credibility within these networks, the application of an environmental standard is more connected to the authority of the standard setter than the credibility of the label. The paper concludes that understanding the more nuanced role of authority, both with and without credibility, offers new insights into the wider dynamics that shape environmental regulation in global production networks.
    Journal of Cleaner Production 03/2014; 107. DOI:10.1016/j.jclepro.2014.02.047 · 3.84 Impact Factor
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