Can Advocacy-Led Certification Systems Transform Global Corporate Practices? Evidence, and Some Theory
Michael E Conroy
There is emerging evidence that globalization is beginning to provide new opportunities for global coalitions of advocacy groups to bring market-based pressures to bear upon major transnational firms in a way that promotes higher standards of social and environmental responsibility in production processes and trade relations. This can be seen as successful citizen-led attention to the “production and process methods” which the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations explicitly chose to omit. More broadly it may reflect the increased importance of global branding, improved awareness in both consumer and financial markets of the social and environmental practices of firms, and collaboration on the part of producers to reduce their risk of brand-damaging attacks on the social and environmental responsibility of their practices. The emergence and growth of the Forest Stewardship Council as the “gold standard” for sustainable forest management, and the expensive attempts by the forest products industry to create industry-driven substitute standards, may be the pivotal example of this phenomenon. The further growth of certified Fair Trade practices under Transfair USA is another example. Both cases provide important lessons as to the elements of present and future success for this movement. They may also represent creative new solutions for problems of persistent poverty by using the leverage of markets in the global North to improve the ability of workers, farmers, and other producers in the global South to build natural assets in ways that generate socially and environmentally sustainable livelihoods.
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