The Institutionalization of RSPO Standards and the Effects on State and Business-Driven Governance in Ecuador

Authors: Adrienne Johnson*, University of San Francisco
Topics: Environment, Cultural and Political Ecology, Agricultural Geography
Keywords: environmental governance, certification, palm oil, RSPO
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 21
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Palm oil certification is popular in both the Global North and South for its ability to transform agro-industrial practices in producing countries and to raise social and ecological awareness in consuming countries. Despite an explosion of research that looks at the power relations embedded in standards-creating processes and the marginalization of certain actors, very little of it investigates the effects of palm oil certification standards on state-private governance relations, particularly in Latin America. Furthermore, few studies examine emerging public and private arrangements that facilitate the local institutionalization of private agro-certification standards. This paper addresses these gaps by examining the case of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in Ecuador and how its certification standards are being ‘taken up’ by public and private actors. It argues that the entrenchment of RSPO policies not only expands the reach and control of corporate governance, but further strengthens public governance as well, as local institutions are needed to legitimize and implement the certification standards. In the case of Ecuador, entire national economic plans are being built and fortified around the presence of RSPO certification frameworks. The intermingling of both modes of governance forges a palm oil landscape that is ‘transnationally hybrid’, where global public and private actors forge synergistic relations that are economically productive yet socially and environmentally marginalizing. Drawing on ethnographic research findings, this paper examines the effects of RSPO institutionalization on community-corporate dynamics, state power and environmental jurisdictional plans, and EU palm oil procurement policies in relation to local production.

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