Certification and equity: Applying an “equity framework” to compare certification schemes across product sectors and scales

Abstract

This paper applies a comprehensive equity framework to compare the priorities and trade-offs of different environmental and social certification schemes. The schemes selected for comparison are the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC), the Fairtrade Labelling Organization (FLO), and the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA). The framework considers how the parameters of equity are set in certification scheme governance, including who are the primary decision-makers and intended beneficiaries, and how this is reflected in the content of scheme standards and certification outcomes. Each of these parameters is assessed across the dimensions of procedural, contextual and distributive equity.

Results reveal significant variation in the prioritization of the environment, non-commercial stakeholders or equity across the supply chain. In forestry, the FSC has placed primary emphasis on the procedural rights of non-commercial interests in standard-setting processes, the contextual rights of indigenous peoples, and the conservation of natural ecosystems, while the PEFC places more emphasis on procedural equity for producers and the legitimacy of sovereign governments as rule-makers. Both FLO and CCBA prioritize distributive equity regarding the sharing of material benefits with small-scale and/or community producers or workers, while FLO also emphasizes the contextual issue of “empowerment” and capacity-building. In all schemes, contextual factors related to capacity and access have disproportionately advantaged Northern and large-scale corporate actors.

Scheme priorities are reflected in scheme standards. Schemes where producers are the primary subjects of equity are less prescriptive about safeguarding non-producer interests. A focus on non-producers, in contrast, leads to more prescriptive requirements to protect the environment and/or other actors not involved in production.

Finally, there is a significant gap between the ways that schemes frame equity and the outcomes. Contextual factors such as land and resource ownership, supply chain structures, export dependence and the organizational capacity of different stakeholders play a key role in shaping certification uptake and benefit distribution. Hence, the distribution of certificates largely mirrors existing patterns of global trade. While envirosocial certification has likely increased the overall influence of Northern NGOs relative to industrial producers, the balance of power between these two interest groups has been a constant point of contention. Meanwhile, without further deliberative strategies aimed at addressing contextual barriers to participation, certification is likely to exacerbate inequalities among other stakeholders and regions.

Citation

McDermott, C.L. Certification and equity: Applying an “equity framework” to compare certification schemes across product sectors and scales. Environmental Science and Policy (2013) 33: 428-437. [DOI: 10.1016/j.envsci.2012.06.008]

Certification and equity: Applying an “equity framework” to compare certification schemes across product sectors and scales

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