When private standards work (en)

2 November 2012
ITC Nouvelles
Private sustainability standards can be an effective tool to foster sustainable development, according to a new paper.

A new literature review, When do Private Standards Work, analyses why the application of standards is more viable for certain producers and why adoption is still concentrated on certain, specific products.

According to the paper, private standards are conceived as norms developed by private entities such as companies, non-governmental organizations or multi-stakeholder coalitions. These standards target a variety of goals, ownerships and objectives, such as environmental conservation, ensuring food safety or protection of social and human rights, and the promotion of good agricultural and manufacturing practices.

When do Private Standards Work, looks in detail and reviews 59 documents, and suggests a set of conclusions on how to apply standards on more products.

It finds that private standards can have a positive effect on both the producers and the chain supply level. Furthermore, context conditions, instruments and mechanisms are to be considered to analyse the overall effects of private standards that tend to be adopted preferably in sectors where products have high (and legal) requirements regarding traceability, quality and safety, labour-intensive production, commodities identifiable in end products and shorter supply chains with few actors.

Private standards also tend to be more viable in contexts with higher levels of producer and institutional preparedness. A legal recognition in terms of inclusiveness, transparency and effectiveness of private standards is required to be expressed by stakeholders. The paper suggests that attention to local conditions while considering the overall global scope is essential to improve private standards while clearer and more visible incentives need to be created to promote their adoption at least in a short term.

Positive effects of private standards are often related to buyers associated with mission driven buyers. Enhanced buyer-seller relationships and increased credibility or self-assurance can enhance advantages for producers involved in private standards. An overall systemic view of private standards it is finally critical for the assessment of their effectiveness.