Agriculture Reference
In-Depth Information
case, the logic of self-taxation is that it allows each to contribute according to her prefer-
ences, accommodating pluralism of views toward redistribution better than a govern-
ment policy that forces a single standard of contribution.
Other observers of voluntary schemes argue that, given the leniency of government
policy, certification schemes can be useful alternatives to strict legal regulation (e.g.,
Henson and Murphy 2010). These commentators point to deficiencies in government
regulation of environmental and health standards for agriculture, suggesting that pow-
erful special interests—such as farm lobbies—influence government policy and prevent
the state from setting appropriately protective legal standards. Even when relatively
stringent labor laws exist formally “on the topics,” corruption, ineicient bureaucracies,
and political calculations often limit government willingness and capacity to enforce
them. Thus, supporters of certification standards claim that creating better channels of
transparency and routing consumer dollars toward otherwise under-resourced, under-
enforced safeguards will allow consumers to leverage the power of the market against
poverty, environmental degradation, and health hazards when government resources or
willingness falls short.
As voluntary standards have developed, they have expanded, commercialized, and
become institutionalized, bringing in an increasingly diverse set of actors that span the
private sector, civil society organizations, and the state. The Fair Trade industry was once
the fair trade movement. It began in the civil society sector, led by churches, disaster-
relief organizations, and solidarity groups that formed network-based trade channels
with marginalized producers. Fair Trade began to enter mainstream markets in the late
1980s, and as the industry scaled, more commercial actors took the lead (Bacon 2005).
The Organic industry was likewise once a network of social movements that coalesced
into a transnational movement in the 1970s, laying the groundwork for commercially
oriented actors to enter the market (see Larsson, this volume). Subsequently, the United
States Department of Agriculture (USDA) took on the role of standardizing and over-
seeing organic certification standards.
Along with the growth and commercialization of these certification systems, tension
has arisen over the question of how stringent these standards should be. There is a per-
ceived trade-off between the strictness and scalability of standards, and stakeholders
disagree about how to approach this choice (Gendron, Bisaillon, and Rance 2009, Auld
2011). On one side of the debate is a group we might call the “depth” advocates, who
argue that lowering standards erodes the meaning and impact of the standard. On the
other side of the debate is a group we might call the “breadth” advocates, who argue that
making standards marginally less strict will make certification less daunting for signifi-
cantly larger companies, thus appealing to a broader set of retailers and spreading stan-
dards further throughout the market.
The difference between these perspectives fundamentally boils down to how these
advocates evaluate impact. Is the impact on environmental practices, labor conditions,
and human health greater if a small number of companies follow very strict guide-
lines, or if many large companies make minor adjustments in their practices? This
question remains at the center of debates on every labeling scheme visible enough
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