Multistakeholder initiatives in global production networks: naturalizing specific understandings of sustainability through the Better Cotton Initiative

Lone Riisgaard, Peter Lund-Thomsen, and Neil M. Coe
DOI number

#Agriculture and food
#Sustainability standards
#Corporate responsibility and lead firms

In recent years, various academics, consultants, companies and NGOs have advocated a move towards more cooperative approaches to private sustainability standards to address the widely identified shortcomings of the compliance paradigm. However, is it possible to address these limitations by moving towards stakeholder inclusion and capacity building while at the same time catering to the demands of lead firms supplying the mainstream market? In this article, we analyse how the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) seeks to do just that, in the process identifying three key tensions and competing policy concerns with which standard‐setters have had to grapple – (a) stakeholder inclusion vs process‐control/efficiency; (b) stringency of the standard vs scale of production; and (c) capacity building vs auditing. Combining theoretical considerations about governance in global production networks (GPNs) with a convention theory perspective, we explore these inherent tensions and show that due to pre‐existing power relations in the cotton GPN, it is hard to develop more cooperative approaches because market and industrial values tend to win out despite efforts to follow current best practice on sustainability standard‐setting.


Neil M. Coe

University of Sidney

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