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Standards and other criteria-based voluntary initiatives set rules for production and trade. Voluntary rules-based systems that integrate sustainable development objectives and participatory, inclusive, impartial and transparent governance form a pre-requisite for effective and credible application.

There are now more than 400 voluntary sustainability standards operating across the planet. As the demand and supply of standard compliant products grows so does the need to understand how voluntary sustainability standards are developing over time, both in terms of the systems they deploy and the market impacts they have. 

To date, voluntary standards have shown a great deal of flexibility and ingenuity in attempting to meet these objectives in the international context. At the same time, the diversity of different structures and systems has remained relatively opaque to most stakeholders, including public policy-makers. Moreover, the fact that many such initiatives are often born out of small groups of collaborating partners can threaten their impartiality and the ability of other stakeholders to exercise input and influence. As a form of "de facto" trade policy, voluntary standards need, above all, to ensure participatory and inclusive governance in their design. The promotion of good governance among standards initiatives forms a key priority for IISD's work on standards.

 

 

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