Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 481–497 | Cite as

Battlefields of ideas: changing narratives and power dynamics in private standards in global agricultural value chains

  • Valerie NelsonEmail author
  • Anne Tallontire


The rise of private standards, including those involving multi-stakeholder processes, raises questions about whose interests are served and the kind of power that is exerted to maintain these interests. This paper critically examines the battle for ideas—the way competing factions assert their own narratives about value chain relations, the role of standards and related multi-stakeholder processes. Drawing on empirical research on the horticulture and floriculture value chains linking Kenya and the United Kingdom, the analysis explores the framing of sustainability issues, especially around labor issues and good agricultural practice, and the choice of response with respect to private standards and multi-stakeholder initiatives since the late 1990s. We identify four competing narratives currently in play: a dominant global sourcing narrative, a pragmatic development narrative, a broader development narrative and a narrative we term potentially transformative. This last narrative is currently emerging through the unpacking of narratives in relation to the framing of sustainability problems and solutions, and in terms of legislative, executive and judicial governance. The paper contributes to emerging understanding of power in value chains, moving beyond material power to a consideration of how ideational power is exerted and resisted.


Private standards Multi-stakeholder initiatives Agriculture Governance Kenya Sustainability standards 



Department for international development


Ethical trading initiative


Fairtrade labelling organisations international


Flower label program


Fresh produce exporters of Kenya


Good agricultural practice


Global social compliance program


Global value chain


Horticultural ethical business initiative


Kenya flower council


Milieu programma sierteelt


Multi-stakeholder initiative


Mature systems of industrial relations


Participatory social auditing


Trade union


United Kingdom



The authors gratefully acknowledge funding from the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council and Department for International Development (DFID), for the project Governance Implications of Private Standards Initiatives in Agri-Food Chains, Grant Ref: RES-167-25-0195. We also thank the two other core members of the project team, Maggie Opondo and Adrienne Martin, for their contributions throughout the project. We also acknowledge the funding of DFID for the accountable Grant: Assessing the Poverty Impact and Governance Implications of Sustainability Standards’ project granted to NRI.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Livelihoods and Institutions Department, Natural Resources InstituteUniversity of GreenwichKentUK
  2. 2.School of Earth and EnvironmentUniversity of LeedsLeedsUK

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