Abstract

This article conducts a population-level analysis of transnational private governance organizations (TPGOs) that develop standards for sustainable commodity production in the Global South. Our point of departure is the observation that despite the rapid growth in the number of TPGOs active in developing countries the extant scholarship remains focused on a small set of well-studied programs. To address this imbalance, this article brings much needed empirical breadth to current debates on the proliferation, inclusivity, and distributional consequences of transnational sustainability governance. Analyzing 47 TPGOs and their operations in 12 export-oriented commodity sectors and the 10 largest developing country producers of these commodities, our explorations reveal signs of a worrying “bigger picture”. The highly unequal geographic and sectoral distribution of TPGOs, the lack of inclusion of producers in their central decision-making bodies, and the prevalence of problematic cost sharing arrangements limit the potential of this mode of governance to contribute to sustainable commodity production in developing countries.

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