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The standardization of sustainable development through the insertion of agricultural global value chains into international markets

Cheyns E., Daviron B., Djama M., Fouilleux E., Guéneau S.. 2017. In : Biénabe Estelle (ed.), Rival Alain (ed.), Loeillet Denis (ed.). Sustainable development and tropical agri-chains. Dordrecht : Springer, p. 283-303.

DOI: 10.1007/978-94-024-1016-7_23

Mechanisms to standardize sustainable agricultural practices first emerged in the early 2000s with the goal of establishing responsible rules of corporate behaviour. Based on voluntary commitments by firms, these mechanisms are usually structured around a particular agricultural product and bring together the global value chain's various actors (producers, buyers, processors, retailers), as well as NGOs, banks, and sometimes governments, to define and monitor sustainable production practices. They aim to regulate the environmental and social impacts of agriculture, especially large-scale industrial agriculture. And yet, some authors have noted the difficulty of "internalizing" the negative effects and costs that international trade makes invisible, due to a "distance" effect. By basing itself on the work of Thomas Princen (1997), this chapter explores the ability of standardization mechanisms to make visible again the effects that are "obscured" by distance and the strategic action of firms and governments. Distance is understood here in terms of different dimensions: geographical, but also (and particularly) pertaining to contractual asymmetries; a limited cognitive ability of interpretation in an exchange between "foreign" people and places; or a large number of intermediaries. From an empirical analysis of standardization mechanisms and a literature review, we show that sustainability standards have brushed aside part of the social and environmental criticism raised in a wider public debate, much like they exclude certain concerns raised by the affected people themselves. Characterized as a form of "government by the stakeholders", such mechanisms in fact lead to the depoliticization of the debate and therefore to the exclusion of certain political perspectives and expressions of the common good. Moreover, they deliberately ignore some relationships that people have with their environment, thus making invisible part of the damage. Thus, these sustainability standards simply do not take some of negative impacts of the exports of biomass by industrial agriculture into account. These mechanisms have so far excluded or dismissed the constructions of sustainability whose aim was precisely to reduce the various dimensions of distance.

Mots-clés : secteur agricole; développement durable; normalisation; marché mondial; commerce international; impact sur l'environnement; environnement socioéconomique; Évaluation de l'impact; durabilité; norme; agriculture intensive; biomasse; utilisation; certification; entreprise privée; entreprise publique; organisation non gouvernementale; Étude de cas; elaeis guineensis; plantations; déboisement; filière

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