Southern sustainability initiatives in agricultural value chains: a question of enhanced inclusiveness? The case of Trustea in India

Agriculture and Human Values 38 (2):381-395 (2020)
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Recent studies have shed light on the emergence of Southern sustainability initiatives in commodity-based value chains. These initiatives position themselves as countering the exclusionary nature of many global multi-stakeholder initiatives, as critically analysed by previous studies. However, a common theoretical perspective on the inclusiveness of MSIs is still lacking. By drawing on the theory of regimes of engagement, we develop a theoretical framework which helps understanding the overt and subtle practices of including or excluding different stakeholders in MSIs. We apply this framework to ‘Trustea’, an Indian MSI for sustainable tea production, to further investigate the ‘inclusiveness paradigm’ of Southern sustainability initiatives. Our findings highlight the complexity of stakeholder engagement across the different phases of Trustea’s development, from initiation and code development to formal launch and roll-out. We find that different types of engagement can exist in parallel. Justifiable engagement is expressed in the participating organisations’ reference to a shared common goal of Trustea, whereas familiar engagement is linked to the rootedness of the individuals involved in the Indian tea industry. Strategic engagement, in turn, comes to the fore through the strong emphasis on developing an Indian code for sustainable tea production and promoting adoption among tea growers. The importance of reaching this objective has led to the replication of exclusionary patterns also noted for global MSIs, as small-scale producers and other weak actors have been largely excluded from decision-making processes, despite informal efforts aimed at substitution of representation.



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