The long arm of Northern consumers – a lever for Southern rights?

Arne Wangel

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    The concept of ‘private governance’ in global value chains refers to the fact that lead firms increasingly integrate monitoring of environmental, social and labour standards into their supply chain management. Growing concern by consumers in Northern markets about unequal distribution of benefits, hazardous working conditions and social dislocation for primary producers and workers in developing countries prompt Northern retailers and brand-named manufacturers to enter certification schemes. The risk of media exposure and activist pressure drives efforts to comply with own corporate standards or those set and audited by non-governmental organisations.
    While corporate social responsibility initially was enacted by way of a communication strategy, proactive interventions for achieving positive social, economic and environmental impacts are now being adopted. At the same time, donors are targeting upgrading for primary producers of agricultural commodities in Africa, interventions to address critical constraints in their value chains, and increased access to export markets as measures to stimulate economic growth.
    The setting of social, labour and environmental standards is based on international conventions, which provide legitimacy to the audience of Northern consumers. But how are such standards perceived in the Southern context? Do they contribute to strengthen claims of some social actors, do they support the exercise of rights, or are they largely not known in political discourses? Do some standards on the longer term translate into government regulation?
    African farmers and processors join global value chains, and a lead firm, a fair trade scheme or a donor intervene to improve conditions. Which are the new patterns of inequality emerging in the local community and in the sector of production? Who will benefit, and who will be marginalized? At household level, how are livelihood strategies and gender divisions affected?
    In short, to address these issues in full from both ends of the global value chains, close research collaboration is needed. The Rivatex textile company, owned by Moi University, in Eldoret provides an excellent point of departure for a study on value chains, standards and rights. Currently, two Master students from Technical University of Denmark are working with Rivatex and Moi University on a first, small value chain study.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication date2012
    Number of pages9
    Publication statusPublished - 2012
    EventBSU-PSDR Conference ‘Unpacking the Concepts of Stability, Democracy and Rights': Subtheme: The dynamism of democracy, economic development and civil societies - Maseno University, Kisumu, Kenya
    Duration: 29 Mar 201230 Mar 2012


    ConferenceBSU-PSDR Conference ‘Unpacking the Concepts of Stability, Democracy and Rights'
    LocationMaseno University

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