Academic journal article Law & Society Review

Disputing the Global Land Grab: Claiming Rights and Making Markets through Collaborative Governance

Academic journal article Law & Society Review

Disputing the Global Land Grab: Claiming Rights and Making Markets through Collaborative Governance

Article excerpt

In 2014, the Chair of the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) announced the completion of the "Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems" (RAI). For the Chair, the RAI was a major success; through a two-year long, multistakeholder process, it had engaged international institutions, multinational corporations, states, and transnational activists to produce a set of global standards to govern large-scale land transfers. Indeed, the collaborative approach of the CFS has been hailed by some activists and scholars as a new model of democratic food governance. Yet, despite the inclusion of social movements, in the concluding plenary of the CFS in 2014, a Spanish activist from the International Peasant Movement, La Via Campesina, soberly explained to the assembled parties his disappointment with the final Principles. The document "paid lip service to human rights," he said, but undermined those commitments by subordinating them to trade agreements. Ultimately, he protested, "The Principles do not prioritize public policy at all. They prioritize an enabling environment for market-based solutions without any recognition of power imbalances."

After the final concluding gavel of the 2014 CFS, an exhausted group of 30 activists who had participated in the negotiations huddled in a large and lavish conference room at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome. The mood was sour. The activists were worried that they had helped to construct a framework that legitimized the very "land grabs" they had initially sought to contest. This was of particularly concerning because it had taken almost six years of on-going activism to develop a set of global standards to regulate the growing problem of large-scale land transfers. Indeed, activists had been working intensively since 2009, when the World Bank launched the Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment (PRAI) without civil society consultation. After years of pressure to develop a more participatory regulatory process, however, activists now found themselves facing an outcome that did not substantively address their original critiques. Just as La Via Campesina had derided the PRAI for its "market-driven 'global governance' of food and agriculture" (2010: 8), now it was criticizing the RAI for enabling an "environment for market-based solutions." Given the participation of civil society organizations and transnational agrarian movements, what explains the failure of this collaborative process to address activists' claims and demands?

This article analyses how power operates within collaborative governance. Over the past decade, new arenas of collaborative, multistakeholder governance have proliferated to manage conflicts over food, natural resources, as well as other contentious global issues. While processes of collaborative governance vary in their institutional arrangements, they are defined by the inclusion of state and nonstate "stakeholders" in inclusive and participatory processes that aim to cultivate voluntary compliance (Ansell and Gash 2008). Activists and sociolegal scholars have raised concerns that these processes often do not account for unequal resources and relations of power of stakeholders (Bryson et al. 2006; Gray 2004; Fung and Wright 2003; Purdy 2016). While this remains an enduring challenge, these analyses of power often overlook how power is exercised indirectly, across the competing arenas of transnational legal pluralism (Berman 2009; Michaels 2009). By adapting the sociolegal disputing approach to the context of transnational disputes, this study reveals how collaborative processes are shaped by the competition to frame disputes across competing arenas of global governance.

I draw on ethnographic fieldwork in the CFS to develop an extended case analysis of "the global land grab," which was articulated after the global food crisis of 2007-2008 and negotiated within the CFS between 2012 and 2014. …

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