(Trans)national rules and local performances : sustainability standards in the Cocoa Sector of Ghana, Ecuador, and Brazil
Sloan School of Management.
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Sustainability standards have been construed as potent solutions for agricultural producers in the Global South to solve major issues around poverty, inequality, bad labor and environmental conditions, and they have been spreading rapidly. Standards promise better livelihoods for producers through higher prices, farmer organization, and compliance with improved labor, environmental, and managerial practices. Yet actual improvements occur inconsistently. This dissertation examines this inconsistency by asking under what conditions and through what mechanisms sustainability standards improve livelihoods for producers in their labor and economic conditions. I find that producers, themselves, must make standards work and discover how to translate transnational rules into locally suitable practices. This process of discovery comprises two challenges: to upgrade by adding value to the adopting rural enterprise and to turn rules into practices. Overcoming these challenges is contingent on two conditions. First, adopters must integrate this process of discovery with a high-performance work system that mobilizes the skills and motivation of employees for productivity and quality gains. Second, adopters' learning depends on external reinforcement, positive through support for learning or negative through a threat of sanctions. The empirical material for this argument stems from a multi-method study of sustainability standards in the cocoa sector of Ghana, Ecuador, and Brazil. A five-year panel study from Ghana shows that, on average, livelihood improvements with standards are underwhelming. In Ecuador, my findings from comparing two certified farmer groups show that the path to better outcomes leads through upgrading, and not through standards by themselves. In Brazil, evidence from a participant-observation and interview-based study with cocoa plantations demonstrates that adopters must be able to proactively turn rules into on-the-ground behaviors. Theoretically, this dissertation contributes a practice and labor lens to transnational private governance research and, in doing so, theorizes relationships between adopters' practices, private standard implementation, and market and regulatory contexts. Empirically, I propose that mitigating the weaknesses of private governance cannot be solved by adding more public regulation or more governance from buyers. Instead, I recommend to support agricultural producers by complementing transnational rules with local communities of practice in order to speed up processes of upgrading and discovery.
Thesis: Ph. D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sloan School of Management, 2016.Cataloged from PDF version of thesis.Includes bibliographical references (pages 209-234).
DepartmentSloan School of Management.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Sloan School of Management.