Producer Inclusion in Voluntary Sustainability Standard Governance

This report analyzes the extent to which producers are included in the governance of agricultural standards and recommends ways for standard-setting organizations to give producers opportunities to help steer their course.

By Sara Elder on November 30, 2023

Voluntary sustainability standards (VSSs) have emerged and proliferated over the last 3 decades to help address social and environmental challenges associated with how we produce and consume food and goods. Many VSS-setting organizations (VSSSOs) in the agricultural sector seek to improve the livelihoods of producers—by which we mean farmers, farm workers, and factory workers—as part of their mandate. But to what degree do VSSSOs include the people they intend to help in the decisions that affect their lives?

This report analyzes the extent to which producers are included in the governance systems of six VSSSOs in the agricultural sector. It focuses on four main principles of inclusion—representation, participation, transparency, and subsidiarity—and aims to identify and share what is working well and what needs further attention.

While the findings suggest that progress is promising, much more needs to be done to provide opportunities for producers to have their say in decisions that impact their lives. The report outlines a series of recommendations for how VSSSOs can enhance their democratic processes and include a greater quantity and breadth of producers in their governance systems. These recommendations include

  • giving producers votes and veto power in the highest governance bodies;
  • establishing and integrating producer-led networks in their governance structures;
  • providing training to bring producers up to speed ahead of governing body meetings;
  • ensuring producers are engaged in consultation processes;
  • giving producers a seat and vote on grievance committees;
  • increasing their transparency by publishing both executive and grievance decisions;
  • giving producers access to data and a vote on what data to collect; and
  • creating systems for open, two-way communication with producers.

Producers are at the heart of the work that VSSSOs do. Giving them the opportunity to help steer the agenda is key to ensuring that VSSs stay relevant to the context, priorities, and needs of those they are trying to reach.

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