New report: ISEAL members more transparent and supportive to small producers than other sustainability standards

Coffee beans © David Macharia for Fairtrade International

A new policy report finds a positive relationship between ISEAL membership and “producer-friendly” sustainability standards systems. 

The report, Social and Environmental Standards: Contributing to More Sustainable Value Chains, is based on research conducted by the International Trade Centre and the European University Institute. It provides insights into the design and landscape of sustainability standards, demonstrating how a standard’s design and governance structure can make it more accessible to producers through cost sharing, assistance and transparency.

Ensuring accessibility for SMEs and smallholder producers

The researchers found that the governance structure for sustainability standards impacts how accessible a standard is to producers in developing countries. The report explains that the readiness of information, for example on support, mechanisms for sharing costs and stakeholder engagement, is central to the effective uptake of standards by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and smallholders.

The analysis found that having information available meant that SMEs and smallholders could reduce the costs of implementing and meeting the requirements of sustainability standards, which made the standards more accessible. The report states “ISEAL membership is positively correlated with a higher likelihood of standards offering support activities in two main areas, learning assistance and financial support, which are particularly important for developing-country producers.” It goes on to say “standards that are ISEAL full members are 52% more likely than the average standard in this sample to have a design in which the implementation costs are shared, and 37% more likely to have certification costs shared.”

Transparency builds trust and informs decision-making

The report’s authors maintain that transparency is also important for producers to build trust and help them inform decision-making. The findings show that “ISEAL membership has a statistically significant effect on transparency in three key areas: disclosure of information on standards development procedures and policies, the certification/verification process, and complaints and dispute resolution policies.”

Working with affected stakeholders

The report offers information on standards emerging in non-OECD countries, where standards are located and where certified products are sold. It concludes by providing policy makers with recommendations on how to support the integration of their SMEs and smallholders into sustainable value chains.

In addition, the report provides recommendations on how standard-setting organisations and value chain players can promote inclusiveness and sustainable development. Reinforcing the importance of working with all affected stakeholders, which is necessary for ISEAL membership to ensure a standard’s requirements are meaningful and bring about improvements.

The research analysed information on 181 standards initiatives from ITC’s standards map database.

Download the full report.

Posted on 04/10/2016