Exploratory research to determine why eco-labels have thus far failed to change land use patterns in Brazil, Indonesia and Côte d’Ivoire.
Abstract: In countries marked by the growing uptake of non-state market driven (NSMD) governance for agricultural commodities (i.e., eco-labels and certification systems), forested areas are steadily decreasing while crop lands are growing. This deforestation continues despite NSMD rules aimed at prohibiting the conversion of forested land to agriculture. In this paper, we ask why the growing presence of NSMD governance has coincided with ongoing deforestation. While the seeming inability of NSMD governance to halt broader patterns of land use change can be partially explained by a lack of market uptake, there are also a range of other variables that may contribute to this relationship. We probe the plausibility of five hypotheses through comparative case studies of sustainable soy certification in Brazil, palm oil in Indonesia, and cocoa in Côte d’Ivoire. Our findings indicate that NSMD governance has neither abetted, nor hindered, the conversion of forested land to agricultural production. We find strong evidence that a lack of broad market uptake limits the effectiveness of NSMD governance. However, we also find evidence that regulatory loopholes in NSMD systems may explain the inability of eco-labels and certification systems to halt broader patterns of land use change in countries with comparatively strong market uptake. Our results highlight critical problems related to expanding the reach and stringency of NSMD governance alongside the ongoing fragmentation of global environmental governance. The study contributes to scholarship on the impacts and effectiveness of transnational environmental governance.