Academic journal article Environmental Values

Governance and Images: Representations of Certified Southern Producers in High-Quality Design Markets

Academic journal article Environmental Values

Governance and Images: Representations of Certified Southern Producers in High-Quality Design Markets

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This article analyses the representational politics of global commodity networks, where certified forest products are produced and consumed, approaching them as complex forms of governance in which diverse actors, images, conventions and values interact. The study draws upon a case study of certified Honduran community forestry groups producing furniture and kitchenware for Danish design markets. Special focus is on the forms of negotiation and contestation through which the different actors mediate the representations and imagery circulating in the marketing of certified products and on their differential access to control and power. The research illustrates how leading retailers, in negotiation with environmental organisations, modify definitions of quality and guide consumers' expectations of certified southern forest products, by building images of southern community forest producers as authentic and exotic 'others'. The article concludes that certification as a market-based form of governance has had only limited impact on altering the unequal relationships characteristic of global networks of production and consumption.

KEYWORDS

Community forestry, certification, governance, images, values

INTRODUCTION

Forestry is the activity that provides the most cash in this community.
Every family has someone working in the forest. If they don't saw, they
carry planks on their shoulders. Forestry doesn't make you rich, but it
helps you to survive ... It's a hard job. I often begin turning in my
sleep in the early morning hours, knowing that I must go to carry
planks.

With these words Amoldo, a 36-year-old member of a Rio Cangrejal community forestry group in northern Honduras, describes how he and his fellow villagers work, heading up the mountain at dawn to carry planks of marapolan to be sold to a furniture factory in the city of La Ceiba. (1) Arnoldo has a threadbare sofa cushion on his shoulder to prevent the planks from chafing the skin. The men are pleased that logging operations exist, since opportunities for work in the Honduran countryside are limited and people must earn their livelihood from various sources. Forestry incomes are crucial for basic living, as well as for covering the costs of unexpected illness or crop failure. The community forestry groups of Rio Cangrejal represent one of the oldest community forestry initiatives to have been certified anywhere in the world. The groups received their first certificate of good forest management from the Rainforest Alliance in 1991, and this certificate was later accredited by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) in 1993 (Markopoulos, 2003). (2)

A diverse range of environmental, fairtrade and ethical-trade certifications have emerged recently as popular mechanisms for ensuring that environmental and social responsibilities are taken seriously in agricultural production, forest management, fisheries, mining and biofuel production (Auld, 2010; Carrier 2010 ; Daviron and Vagneron, 2011 ; Partzsch, 2011 ). As a market-based mechanism, certification in all its forms has been considered a promising way to create alternative approaches to governance in situations where conventional forms of government regulation have been criticised as inadequate and too slow (Ebeling and Yasue, 2009). Third-party certifications have been lauded as innovative win-win solutions in which markets serve as important drivers of environmental conservation and consumers play a crucial role in the establishment of environmentally and socially sustainable development. As market-driven instruments, certification schemes are based on the expectation that end-consumers will pay a price premium for certified products, and in this way support efforts to improve environmental conservation and to enhance local livelihoods (Dauvergne and Lister, 2010; MacDonald, 2007). In an impressive campaign on behalf of Rio Cangrejal certified forests in 2007, the brochure by FSC-Denmark thus assured readers that:

When forestry complies with the principles of FSC, nature, animals and
local communities are affected in a positive way . … 
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