Abstract

Agricultural commodity production in the Global South is accompanied by a range of social and environmental problems ranging from pollution and deforestation to labor rights violations. Accordingly, governments and non-state actors have responded through various governance initiatives aimed at promoting sustainable commodity production. While the existing literature focuses largely on transnational standards originating in the North, we investigate “homegrown” approaches in the South by asking: what explains variation in the design and features of sustainable commodity governance led by Southern actors? By comparing sustainable aquaculture governance in Thailand, Vietnam, and China, we derive a novel conceptualization of two distinct types of homegrown governance approaches – certification standards and capability-building programs – and suggest that the choice between the two is contingent on the supply of, and demand for, sustainable commodity governance. We find decisions by Southern governments to supply governance can lock in top-down approaches and exclude potentially more impactful bottom-up approaches. We therefore argue that the material resources and normative concerns of Southern governance entrepreneurs lead to different homegrown approaches. Our findings contribute theoretical insights to the literature on transnational governance interactions and practical observations about the utility of different approaches to sustainability concerns in the Global South.

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