Final Technical Report: Assessing the poverty impact of sustainability standards


Voluntary sustainability standards have proliferated in recent years and grown in market sales, but evidence on their poverty impact has been lacking. The purpose of this study is to “systematically examine the impact of voluntary social and environmental standards on poverty and livelihoods, particularly for the most disadvantaged workers and producers in developing countries”.

This report presents the findings from a four year study (funded by DFID, 2009-2013). The study is an impact evaluation which covers multiple organisations (estates and smallholder producer organisations) in four countries. The study employs a theory-based evaluation and comparative case oriented design. It employs both generative causation and counterfactual logics to understand causality and utilises a mix of methods. The study covers a number of sustainability standards, principally Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance. Five cases were included, namely: Ecuador-smallholder-cocoa; Ghana-smallholder-cocoa; Kenya-smallholder-tea; Kenya-hired labour-tea; India-hired labour-tea.

Overall, the findings from the five cases show that sustainability standards bring a range of benefits for individual producers and workers, their organisations, wider communities and the environment. However, the scale is limited, except in Kenya. Complementary and possibly alternative measures are needed to scale up impact and to reach more marginalized groups and sections of societies.

The report structure is as follows: section 1 introduces the study; section 2 details the study design and methodology; section 3 synthesizes the findings from across the five cases on impacts at individual producer level and at the organisational level; section 4 summarizes the evidence on impact; section 5 discusses the findings of the study in the light of the evolving landscape of sustainability standards and the increasing recognition of the need for ‘agricultural transformation’, because of converging challenges; section 6 details the policy implications.


Nelson, V.; Martin, A. Final Technical Report: Assessing the poverty impact of sustainability standards. Natural Resources Institute (NRI), University of Greenwich, London, UK (2013) 158 pp.

Final Technical Report: Assessing the poverty impact of sustainability standards

Published 1 January 2013