Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 439–453 | Cite as

Making “minority voices” heard in transnational roundtables: the role of local NGOs in reintroducing justice and attachments

  • Emmanuelle CheynsEmail author


Since the beginning of the new millennium, initiatives known as roundtables have been developed to create voluntary sustainability standards for agricultural commodities. Intended to be private and voluntary in nature, these initiatives claim their legitimacy from their ability to ensure the participation of all categories of stakeholders in horizontal participatory and inclusive processes. This article characterizes the political and material instruments employed as the means of formulating agreement and taking a variety of voices into consideration in these arenas. Referring to the specific case of the “Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil”, I undertake a detailed analysis of the tensions relating to different forms of participation, which create a gap between “local minority voices” and international stakeholders—either non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or industries. Local communities and small-scale farmers face difficulties when making their voices heard in the form of debate proposed. Firstly, some participants attempt to re-impose a vertical hierarchical relationship between small-scale farmers or affected communities and company managers/directors in order to deprive the former of their powers of representation and of being able to transform reality. Secondly, the liberalism of interest groups in the roundtable accords value to experts, global knowledge, strategy, and detachment, at the expense of other capabilities of rooted or attached people who come to defend their real lives with a desire to raise critical issues of injustice. In this context, I highlight the capacity of local NGOs to relieve some of those tensions and to help locally affected communities and small-scale farmers introduce public stages for debates, by accommodating other forms of participation apart from the liberal one. By being close to and by restoring their dignity through a specific work of solicitude and care, local NGOs prepare affected people for public speaking.


Multi-stakeholder initiatives Palm oil Forms of participation Minority voices Local NGO Empowerment 



Multi-stakeholder initiative


Non-governmental organization

Q & A

Questions and Answers


Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil


Indonesian Oil Palm Farmers Union (Serikat Petani Kelapa Sawit in Indonesian)


Sawit Watch



I wish to thank Philippe Barbereau who conducted some interviews with me during his Master’s thesis in 2009. I would also like to express my gratitude to Lawrence Busch, Florence Palpacuer, Lone Riisgaard, and Laurent Thévenot for their comments on a previous draft. This work received the support of the French National Research Agency (ANR-11-CEPL-0009, project PRIGOUE).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CIRAD, Department “Environment and Societies”UMR MoisaMontpellier Cedex 5France

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