Menu

Javascript is not activated in your browser. This website needs javascript activated to work properly.
You are here

Problems with Firm-Led Voluntary Sustainability Schemes: The Case of Direct Trade Coffee

Author:
  • Finlay Macgregor
  • Vasna Ramasar
  • Kimberly Nicholas
Publishing year: 2017
Language: English
Pages:
Publication/Series: Sustainability
Volume: 9
Issue: 4
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Formas

Abstract english

Ensuring sustainable consumption and production is one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Sustainable consumption can be supported through regulatory processes. Voluntary private regulatory schemes claiming to contribute to sustainability are a rapidly growing form of regulation. We study one such voluntary sustainability scheme in order to look at the opportunities and challenges this type of regulatory process poses using Abbot and Snidal’s regulatory standard-setting framework (2009). Specifically, we examine direct trade voluntary schemes in the coffee industry. To do this, we selected six leading direct trade firms in the US and Scandinavia, analyzed firms’ websites in 2015 and 2016 and conducted interviews with four of the firms. We found direct trade as a voluntary scheme was an attempt to market and codify good sourcing practices. US-based founding firms have distanced themselves from the term due to perceived co-optation, which we conceptualize as the failure of industry to self-regulate and argue was enabled by the re-negotiation of standards without the power to enforce or penalize misuse of the term. Firms reacted to co-optation by releasing data to consumers directly; we argue this puts too much responsibility on consumers to monitor and enforce standards. By contrast, Scandinavian firms maintained standards enforced through trademark nationally. Both US and Scandinavian contexts demonstrate a weakness of firm-led agenda-setting for sustainable development in that schemes may be optimized for a particular business concern—in this case quality—rather than to achieve sustainable development goals. This is problematic if schemes are marketed on contribution to the public good when incentives within the scheme are not aligned to produce an optimal result for the public good.

Keywords

  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
  • sustainability standards; certification; sustainable consumption; green consumption; co-optation; regulatory standard-setting; governance triangle; ethical coffee; specialty coffee; quality

Other

Published
  • LUCID - Lund University Centre of Excellence for Integration of Social and Natural Dimensions of Sustainability-lup-obsolete
  • ISSN: 2071-1050
Finlay MacGregor
E-mail: finlay.macgregor [at] lucsus.lu.se

Doctoral student

LUCSUS (Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies)

Wrangel, 209

Wrangel, Biskopsgatan 5, Lund

59

LUCSUS
P.O. Box 170, SE-222 70 Lund, Sweden
Phone: +46(0)46- 222 80 81
info [at] lucsus.lu.se