Global governance through voluntary sustainability standards: Developments, trends and challenges.

Peer Reviewed
30 June 2024

Axel Marx, Charline Depoorter, Santiago Fernandez de Cordoba, Rupal Verma, Mercedes Araoz, Graeme Auld, Janne Bemelmans, Elizabeth A. Bennett, Eva Boonaert, Clara Brandi, Thomas Dietz, Eve Fouilleux, Janina Grabs, Lars H. Gulbrandsen, James Harrison, Robert Heilmayr, Ariel Hernandez, Bernard Hoekman, Siti Rubiah Lambert, Eric Lambin, Li Li, Miet Maertens, Paulo Mortara Batistic, Etsuyo Michida, Junji Nakagawa, Archna Negi, Jorge A. Pérez‐Pineda, Stefano Ponte, Ximena Rueda, Philip Schleifer, Vera Thorstensen, Hamish van der Ven

AbstractVoluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS) are transnational governance instruments that can be leveraged to pursue sustainable development in global value chains. They have proliferated since the 1990s in terms of their number and the share of global production they govern. This paper shares some key insights arising from the considerable body of literature that has analysed the role of these instruments for sustainable production and trade. First, it introduces VSS, traces the evolution of their adoption and takes stock of the research on their sustainability impacts. Next, some major developments in the VSS realm are discussed, related to public policy and the emergence of national sustainability standards. The paper then zooms in on the challenges and limitations of VSS in transforming value chains towards sustainability, focusing on the shortcomings related to inclusiveness and the problems arising from their proliferation. The paper concludes by distilling recommendations on overcoming these challenges, especially in light of recent policy developments, and outlines what different stakeholders can do to make VSS more effective and inclusive instruments for sustainable value chains.

EfD Authors

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Sustainable Development Goals
Publication reference
Marx, A., Depoorter, C., Fernandez de Cordoba, S., Verma, R., Araoz, M., Auld, G., Bemelmans, J., Bennett, E. A., Boonaert, E., Brandi, C., Dietz, T., Fouilleux, E., Grabs, J., Gulbrandsen, L. H., Harrison, J., Heilmayr, R., Hernandez, A., Hoekman, B., Lambert, S. R., … van der Ven, H. (2024). Global governance through voluntary sustainability standards: Developments, trends and challenges. Global Policy. Portico.
Publication | 8 July 2024