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Sensing reality? New monitoring technologies for global sustainability standards


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Gale, F ORCID: 0000-0001-6759-6759, Ascui, F and Lovell, H ORCID: 0000-0003-1164-0356 2017 , 'Sensing reality? New monitoring technologies for global sustainability standards' , Global environmental politics, vol. 17, no. 2 , pp. 65-83 , doi: 10.1162/GLEP_a_00401.

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In the 1990s, civil society organizations partnered with business to “green” global supply chains by setting up formal sustainability standard-setting organizations (SSOs) in sectors including organic food, fair trade, forestry, and fisheries. Although SSOs have withstood the long-standing allegations that they are unnecessary, costly, nondemocratic, and trade-distorting, they must now respond to a new challenge, arising from recent developments in technology. Conceived in the pre-Internet era, SSOs are discovering that verification systems that utilize annual, expert-led, low-tech field audits are under pressure from new information and communication technologies that collect, aggregate, interpret, and display open-source “Big Data” in almost real time. Drawing on the concept of governmentality and on interviews with experts in sustainability certification and natural capital accounting, we argue that while these technological developments offer many positive opportunities, they also enable competing alternatives to the prevailing “truth” or governing rationality about what is happening “on the ground,” which is of critical existential importance to SSOs as guarantors of trust in claims about sustainable production. While SSOs are not helpless in the face of this challenge, we conclude that they will need to do more than take incremental action: rather, they should respond actively to the disintermediation challenge from new virtual monitoring technologies if they are to remain relevant in the coming decade.

Item Type: Article
Authors/Creators:Gale, F and Ascui, F and Lovell, H
Keywords: technology, governmentality, standards, sustainability, auditing
Journal or Publication Title: Global environmental politics
Publisher: MIT Press
ISSN: 1526-3800
DOI / ID Number: 10.1162/GLEP_a_00401
Copyright Information:

© 2017 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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