The agency of global sustainability certifications in developing countries: the Rainforest Alliance and the Sri Lankan tea industry

Munasinghe, Munasinghe Amila Thusha Kumari (2018). The agency of global sustainability certifications in developing countries: the Rainforest Alliance and the Sri Lankan tea industry. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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This study investigates how a private, voluntary North American-based sustainability certification, Rainforest Alliance, is implemented in the Sri Lankan tea industry. A case study is developed from an extensive six month period of fieldwork in Sri Lanka. The analysis is guided by Actor-Network Theory to understand the effects of the Rainforest Alliance certification as it is enacted and co-produced in the local context. The initial adoption of Rainforest Alliance by leading multinationals alters local tea market dynamics and creates market pressure that leads to the adoption of the certification by some local supply chain actors. Rainforest Alliance is inscribed in a local accountability standard that leads to changes in the management, accounting and agricultural practices of certified tea producers. Rainforest Alliance is translated locally primarily as a means for differentiating tea quality and ensuring commercial sustainability, rather than as an indicator of agricultural or environmental sustainability. Whilst investigating the local adoption of Rainforest Alliance, the study uncovers some unexpected consequences. Despite being the purported beneficiaries of sustainability certifications, tea smallholders are explicitly disadvantaged due to their inability to control growing conditions even though they are responsible for approximately three quarters of tea production. The study illustrates how local conditions and circumstances are often ignored as certifications are pushed onto local producers and local supply chains.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Social Sciences
School or Department: Birmingham Business School, Department of Accounting
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
H Social Sciences > HF Commerce > HF5601 Accounting


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