Private Standards and Global Governance

Private Standards and Global Governance

Economic, Legal and Political Perspectives

Leuven Global Governance series

Edited by Axel Marx, Miet Maertens, Johan Swinnen and Jan Wouters

The expert contributors assess the state-of-the-art with regard to private regulation of food, natural resources and labor conditions. They begin with an introduction to, and discussion of, several leading existing private standards, and go on to assess private food standards and their legitimacy and effectiveness in the context of the global trade regime.

Chapter 4: Private Standards in Global Agri-Food Chains

S. Henson and J. Humphrey

Subjects: development studies, development studies, law - academic, regulation and governance


Spencer Henson and John Humphrey INTRODUCTION The evolution of private standards in agri-food chains over the last 10 to 20 years has raised profound questions about the role of public and private institutions in governing food safety and quality and the wider social and environmental impacts of the agri-food system. These standards are applied to production for domestic markets and to food traded across borders. With respect to trade, concerns have been raised about the extent to which private standards can act to exclude producers (and particularly small producers) in developing countries from potentially lucrative international markets (WTO, 2007). Further, the growth of private standards might also challenge the legitimacy of public regulation in spheres such as food safety (see, for example, Fuchs and Kalfagianni, 2010) and established forms of governance of international trade, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Codex Alimentarius Commission.1 The aim of this chapter is to provide clarity regarding the nature of private standards and how they relate to and differ from public regulations and international guidelines on food safety. To do this, the chapter addresses three issues that will be explored in turn. First, it looks at the diversity of private standards, and in particular the distinction between private standards that are oriented to product differentiation and those that are primarily concerned with ensuring compliance with market and regulatory requirements. Second, it examines the reasons why private standards have become important in the global agri-food sector and the interrelationship between...

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