Edited by David Levi-Faur
Chapter 32: Certification as a Mode of Social Regulation
Tim Bartley Certification of products and companies has long been used as a signal of quality, but its transformation into a mode of social regulation is more recent. Over the past two decades, numerous initiatives have emerged to certify conditions in global supply chains, typically addressing environmental sustainability, labor conditions, human rights, or some combination of these. These include early and influential programs like organic, Fair Trade, and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, a second wave of programs like the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and Social Accountability International (SAI), and a seemingly endless array of newly emerging initiatives, focused on shrimp farming, cocoa production, palm oil, and many others. Such initiatives are typically privately organized and supported by coalitions of NGOs, firms, and foundations, though they are also profoundly shaped by governments. Industry associations have also developed their own certification initiatives, such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production (WRAP) systems, or have added certification to prior initiatives, like Responsible Care in the chemical industry. The proliferation of certification and labeling initiatives has led many observers to worry about confusion among consumers and “certification fatigue” among companies. Yet the growth of certification also raises important questions for scholars of regulation and transnational governance. Why has this form emerged across so many industries? Under what conditions can voluntary, privately operated certification initiatives gain governing authority? Does the rise of certification complement or “crowd out” other forms of regulation? This chapter sheds light on these questions by discussing...
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