The certification of products is not new. However, the past few years have seen an upsurge in consumer demand for much more information about the provenance, authenticity, and performance of products and services, going well beyond authenticity, safety and reliability. Alongside this rise there has been a proliferation of voluntary certification schemes instituted by various combinations of industry associations, nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) and government or quasi-governmental agencies.
The seminar series is designed as the first step of a project to compare newly emerging third party certification programmes. Drawing together scholarly and practitioner expertise on a variety of third party certification programmes, presentations will address issues such as the origins or inspiration for the certification programme, identification of participants, its structure, effectiveness and impacts (anticipated and unanticipated), and principal challenges of the certification scheme.
Fair Trade Certification
Dr Alex Nicholls (Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship) examines how over the past ten years the market for Fair Trade products has grown at double digit rates across many countries in the North. As a consequence, Fair Trade is today the most significant example of a social enterprise entering mainstream markets. Furthermore, the Fair Trade model has had an influence beyond its own particular markets by playing an important role both specifically in establishing the 'ethical consumer' as a viable market segment and in exposing exploitation across mainstream supply chains to the public more generally. Fair Trade has its roots in a range of social movements that campaigned for trade justice, often within a strong religious (Christian) framework. This paper explores the micro-process through which Fair Trade has been transformed from a social movement focussing on advocacy against mainstream corporations to a market-embedded model of ethical consumption often working in cooperation with mainstream retailers and wholesale brands. It suggests that the development of Fair Trade certification standard and its attendant label provided the boundary spanning mechanism by which mainstreaming was facilitated. However, it is also proposed that this process, and its ongoing development, present challenges for Fair Trade as a movement that may have serious future implications. Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales; http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/
Problems With Credit Rating Agencies
Professor Timothy Sinclair (University of Warwick) looks at why getting credit ratings 'right' seems vitally important to many professional observers and politicians. The increasingly volatile nature of markets in a post-Bretton Woods world of international capital mobility has created a crisis in relations between the rating agencies and governments, which seek to monitor the performance of the agencies and stimulate 'reform' in their procedures and business models, even if the exact purpose of this reform seems to elude them. This process started with the Enron bankruptcy, but the subprime crisis has generated a veritable 'moral panic' about agency performance in relation to asset-backed securities. In pursuing improvement in the rating system policy-makers need to appreciate the limits to rating. Our expectations of the agencies are founded on a rationalist or machine-like understanding of the workings of capital markets, and on an exogenous understanding of the causes of financial crisis. This worldview implies a correct rating can be determined, and that finding this correct answer is purely a technical matter. A more accurately social and dynamic view of markets and financial crises makes the challenge of effective rating even more daunting. Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales; http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/
Standards for sweatshops: voluntary labour standards programs in global supply chains
Increased attention to sweatshops, child labour, and the suppression of labour rights has led to a range of voluntary initiatives that set, monitor, and certify labour standards in global supply chains. These include factory certification efforts like Social Accountability International, monitoring programs like the Ethical Trading Initiative and Fair Labour Association, and numerous corporate codes of conduct and supplier standards. Whereas supporters initially claimed that such initiatives would effectively 'bypass the state' and transform labour conditions in global supply chains, existing evidence suggests that their impacts are fragmentary, limited in scope, and conditional on domestic political settings. This presentation will discuss the various routes by which certification and codes of conduct might in theory support an upgrading of labour conditions and the barriers that have blunted many of these standards in practice. In particular, an examination of the garment and footwear sectors in Indonesia provides an opportunity to consider why factory certification has barely taken hold in a comparatively conducive political setting (where freedom of association is legally possible) and the ways in labour conditions are shaped by the interplay of governmental and private standards. This seminar was delivered by Professor Tim Bartley, Indiana University. Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales; http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/
Conflict diamonds and the governance of resources
Professor Ian Taylor (University of St. Andrews) discusses conflict diamonds and the governance of resources. Part of the Michaelmas Term Seminar series 2010. The rise of the 'conflict diamonds' issue in international politics, spurred on in the main by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), compelled the diamond industry to go on the offensive to convince the diamond-buying public that diamonds are 'clean' and legitimate. Stemming from this, the Kimberley Process has sought to manage and certify the global diamond trade. This presentation will look at the successes and failures of the Process.
Driven to Drive Markets: The contradictions of forest certification in the promotion of sustainability
Professor Dan Klooster (University of Redlands) summarizes the formation and growth of forest certification and illustrates how it qualifies sustainability and leverages meaningful changes in forest management. Consumer demand seems to have played little direct role in the growth of forest certification. Instead, environmental campaigns and corporate interests in protecting brands drove the adoption of certification among buyers of forest products. Forest certification puts the responsibility for forest protection on forest managers, but has no mechanism to reward them for doing so. Most certification systems posit an almost magical connection between consumers and producers, but the political economies of markets and the strategic actors within them affect the outcomes of certification systems. The partly successful struggle of a consortium of Mexican community forest enterprises to mobilize certification as part of a broader competitive strategy demonstrates the value of certification for leveraging sustainability. Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales; http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/
Enacting the Ethical Consumer
Dr Clive Barnett (Open University) asks how do consumers know when they are acting responsibly? Are they making a difference when they buy "Fairtrade" or "certified organic"? Can consumers trust these kinds of accreditations? This presentation will focus on developing a theoretical framework for understanding the relationship between the range of activities used by campaign organisations to enrol support and the ways in which ordinary people attribute meaning to the multiple demands placed on them as 'consumers' to act responsibly. Part of the Michaelmas Term Seminar Series 2010 - 'Certification and Sustainability' Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales; http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/