Goal‑Based Private Sustainability Governance and Its Paradoxes in the Indonesian Palm Oil Sector

Janina Grabs and Rachael D. Garrett
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#Agriculture and food
#East Asia and Pacific
#Sustainability standards
Additional info: Article published in the Journal of Business Ethics
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In response to stakeholder pressure, companies increasingly make ambitious forward-looking sustainability commitments. They then draw on corporate policies with varying degrees of alignment to disseminate and enforce corresponding behavioral rules among their suppliers and business partners. This goal-based turn in private sustainability governance has important implications for its likely environmental and social outcomes. Drawing on paradox theory, this article uses a case study of zero-deforestation commitments in the Indonesian palm oil sector to argue that goal-based private sustainability governance’s characteristics set the stage for two types of paradoxes to emerge: performing paradoxes between environmental, social, and economic sustainability goals, and organizing paradoxes between cooperation and competition approaches. Companies’ responses to these paradoxes, in turn, can explain the lack of full goal attainment and differential rates of progress between actors. These results draw our attention to the complexities hidden behind governance through goal setting in the corporate space, and raise important questions about the viability of similar strategies such as science-based targets and net-zero goals.


Janina Grabs

ESADE Business School and Environmental Policy Lab, Department of Humanities, Social and Political Sciences, ETH Zürich

Rachael D. Garrett

Moran Professor of Conservation and Development, University of Cambridge

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