Input Legitimacy of Voluntary Sustainability Standards and Acceptance Among Southern Producers: A Qualitative Comparative Analysis

Greetje Schouten, Hilde M. Toonen, Dorine Leeuwerik

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Voluntary standards are key instruments to address sustainability concerns in value chains. The legitimacy of these initiatives has been debated, particularly related to acceptance by Global South stakeholders. The governance literature has predominantly argued that initiatives employing democratic approaches to governance are more likely to increase their legitimacy. In this article, we use a configurational approach to test this proposition in relation to standard acceptance by southern producers. A qualitative comparative analysis of eight cases was carried out, linking three elements of input legitimacy (inclusion, participation, and accountability) to the outcome of standard uptake in the Global South. While our findings suggest that an inclusive governance structure is important, overall, they show no evidence to explain the presence or absence of standard acceptance in the Global South. We conclude that theoretical assumptions about democratic legitimacy cannot be confirmed and argue for further opening up the scholarly debate to include conceptualizations, methods, and approaches inclusive of different ways of creating and perceiving legitimacy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)104-135
Number of pages32
JournalGlobal Environmental Politics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
* Contributions by HMT connect to her work in the Smart Governance project, which was funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO Grant 409-414-017). The authors thank Marieke de Wal for her comments and suggestions during the earlier phases of this research. Moreover, they thank three anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on earlier versions of this article, which tremendously helped in sharpening the article. HMT thanks the Smart Governance research consortium for the relevant discussions and useful insights.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology


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