Fighting standards with standards: Harmonization, rents, and social acountability in certified agrofood networks

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In this paper I explore the remaking of globalized standards through harmonization, and its impact upon certified-organic and fair-trade agrofood networks. I focus on certification standards and discuss four shifts associated with globalized standards (an increased importance of multilateral institutions, changes to standards language, displacement of network-specific standards, and a shift away from relational standards). It is then argued, with reference to value-chain rent theory, that the shift to globalized standards has transformed rent relations in ways that benefit certain actors (that is, retailers) and imperil the earnings of others, In brief, globalized standards increase the costs of standards compliance, the full burden of which falls upon immiserated producers, to the point at which farmers see little economic advantage to certified-organic and fair-trade production. I then examine social-accountability standards that seek to 'fight standards with standards' by championing the consolidation of strong labor and environmental protections under a single label. The study suggests that a single-label strategy can be successful, yet must struggle to overcome a Polanyian double bind, for, in order to build broad coalitions necessary to extend the reach of protective standards, the coalitions must include corporate interests that prefer weaker, contract-based standards.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2033-2051
Number of pages19
JournalEnvironment and Planning A
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)


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