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Beyond the vertical? Using value chains and governance as a framework to analyse private standards initiatives in agri-food chains


The significance of private standards and associated local level initiatives in agri-food value chains are increasingly recognised. However whilst issues related to compliance and impact at the smallholder or worker level have frequently been analysed, the governance implications in terms of how private standards affect national level institutions, public, private and non-governmental, have had less attention. This article applies an extended value chain framework for critical analysis of Private Standards Initiatives (PSIs) in agrifood chains, drawing on primary research on PSIs operating in Kenyan horticulture (Horticulture Ethical Business Initiative and KenyaGAP). The paper explores the legislative, executive and judicial aspects of governance in these southern PSIs highlighting how different stakeholders shape debates and act with agency. It is argued that governance is exercised ‘beyond the vertical’ in that one can identify wider horizontal processes of governance, including how the scope of key debates is constructed (especially in legislative governance) but analysis of executive governance emphasises the dominant role of the lead buyers.

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  1. Until recently known as EurepGAP, this initiative started in 1997 when retailers belonging to the Euro-Retailer Produce Working Group (EUREP) to develop standards for Good Agricultural Practice (GAP). In particular European markets, notably the UK and the Netherlands, it has become the minimum requirement for producers wishing to sell through the multiple retailers.

  2. The ETI is ‘an alliance of companies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and trade union organisations’ which aims ‘to promote and improve the implementation of corporate codes of practice which cover supply chain working conditions’ (

  3. We are using the term ‘private standards’ to cover all standards set outside the realms of public sector. We have included ‘multi-stakeholder’ initiatives under the broad rubric of private standards initiatives to distinguish them clearly from mandatory standards and so permit analysis of the extent to which initiatives permit true multi-stakeholder dialogue and action.

  4. More recent work has suggested that there are more types of governance than this dualism implies and different chains in the same market for a commodity may exhibit different levels of driveness, that is, not all buyers are lead firms in the same way.

  5. Their distinction between ‘market’, ‘relational’, ‘modular’, ‘captive’ and ‘hierarchy’ forms of governance has been used by analysts concerned with governance in fair trade value chains for example (Barrrientos and Smith 2007; Reed 2009).

  6. A discursive power approach tends to focus on ‘the ideational dimension’ of politics and policy and explores how ‘discursive power shapes perceptions and identifies’ (Fuchs and Lederer 2007: 9). In some approaches to discursive power, power can become anonymised, which, as Fuchs and Leder (ibid) note, can mean that one ignores the intentions behind power and indeed the role of actors themselves. However, a Gramscian interpretation of discursive power highlights the role of agency.

  7. Riisgaard (2009) highlights the importance of considering agency beyond the buyers and suppliers in her analysis of the agency of labour organisations in the Kenyan horticulture sector.

  8. The worker FGDs took place July and December 2008 in Kiambu and Nakuru Districts and the smallholder FGDs took place between July and October 2008 in Maragua, Kirinyaga and Meru.

  9. Email to author 28 March 2008.

  10. Indeed Fintrac was the operating agency for the USAID Kenya Horticulture Development Programme and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) hired a consultancy body to run its Business Services Market Development Programme (BSMDP) which was also highly involved in building capacity amongst horticultural producers to access markets requiring GAP certification.

  11. This could be because workers are fearful of mentioning association with NGOs, especially since KEWWO for example is a membership organisation.

  12. However on some flower farms, including some from which we interviewed workers levels of unionisation are over 80%.

  13. Africa Now is registered in the UK but has a Nairobi office and was one of the original ‘observers’ on the HEBI board rather than being a full member.

  14. As early as 2006 members of ETI secretariat wondered if HEBI still existed in reality.

  15. This initiative funded by DFID and GTZ began in 2007 with the aim of finding ways of increasing small holder representation in the standard setting process in GlobalGAP,

  16. Note that WHSW in the GlobalGAP standard is primarily concerned with occupational health rather than core labour rights.

  17. GRASP project final report and interview with one of the project officers, 11 December 2007.

  18. HEBI had plans to develop a complaints handling procedure for the industry, but this has not been realised.

  19. GlobalGAP, then EurepGAP was the subject of complaints from St. Vincent and the Grenadines in WTO committees highlighting how its requirements were in excess of WTO approved international Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) standards in June 2005. This has sparked a series of discussions on private standards at the SPS Committee of the WTO, and currently a Committee work programme comparing standards (Stanton 2009).

  20. Indeed there has been a significant shift in the use of Fairtrade standards in Kenyan floriculture from one or two firms in 2002 (Dolan et al. 2003) to around 18 certified farms and two certified traders in December 2008 (FLO website; interview).


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The authors gratefully acknowledge funding from the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council and Department for International Development, for the project Governance Implications of Private Standards Initiatives in Agri-Food Chains, grant ref: RES-167-25-0195.

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Correspondence to Anne Tallontire.

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Tallontire, A., Opondo, M., Nelson, V. et al. Beyond the vertical? Using value chains and governance as a framework to analyse private standards initiatives in agri-food chains. Agric Hum Values 28, 427–441 (2011).

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  • Kenya
  • Private standards
  • Governance
  • Value chain analysis