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The impact of voluntary sustainability standards on small-scale farmers in global commodity chains

Since their emergence in the mid-1990s, voluntary sustainability standards (VSS) have been propelled from specialty niches into mainstream markets due to rising demand among consumers, buyers and producers to address socio-economic, environmental and food safety concerns.

VSS range from efforts by single firms or NGOs, to industry associations and social movement organisations, business-NGO collaborations, multi- stakeholder initiatives, and, less commonly, public agencies.

The proliferation of an increasing number of standards that address the same commodity or product in similar, yet slightly different, ways has led to competition between sustainability standards and a fragmented market for certified products.

This article offers a brief review of the current state of the debate, by presenting existing evidence on the impact of certification on smallholder farmers and discussing emerging efforts to move ‘beyond certification’.