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Queens Anniversary Prizes 2015

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The Politics of Private Standards – An ESRC-DFID funded research project (Grant reference RES ***********)

This project, officially titled "The Governance Implications of Private Standards Initiatives in Agri-food Chains," funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Department for International Development, analyses the political dynamics within certified value chains, unpacking the relationships within and between private standards and among the key actors. African horticulture is responding to market demand for quality produce that also complies with buyer codes on agricultural practice and labour rights by establishing private standards initiatives. The team are exploring the governance implications of private standards and unpacks the extent to which configurations of different actors, (public, private and civil society), can participate in different aspects of standards. In particular, we focus on the voice and power of more marginal groups such as workers and smallholder farmers.

Beyond the implementations of standards, the research team have explored stakeholder participation in standard content setting, in auditing, in impact assessment, and most importantly in the framing of standards as a primary solution to socio-economic and environmental challenges in agricultural export value chains. There has been a further emphasis on extending value chain analysis to take account of horizontal actors and contextual issues at the local level but also across scales – i.e. along the value chain and within international and national development processes. A key area of theoretical innovation in this research project is in thinking about the spaces for participation that exist in relation to trade standards, and the power dynamics of these spaces – how they open up or are closed down, and by whom. Further work has led to the concept of political literacy – referring to the importance going forward for supporting greater understanding of marginalized groups in how power is exerted in value chains and what other options, strategies, tactics and pathways might exist for challenging dominant narratives.

The project team comprises Valerie Nelson and Adrienne Martin, from NRI in collaboration with Dr Anne Tallontire, University of Leeds, and Dr Maggie Opondo, the University of Nairobi. Primary empirical research was conducted in Kenya, the UK and Europe between 2007 and 2009.


Working papers

Pathways of transformation or transgression? Power relations, ethical space and labour rights in Kenyan cut flower value chains ( Valerie Nelson, Anne Tallontire, Maggie Opondo, Adrienne Martin)

Narrative framings and power dynamics in private standards and global agri-food chains (Valerie Nelson and Anne Tallontire)

Peer-reviewed publications

Tallontire, A (2007) CSR and regulation: towards a framework for understanding private standards initiatives in the agri-food chain, Third World Quarterly, 28(4), pp775-791. doi: 10.1080/01436590701336648

Tallontire, A; Opondo, M; Nelson, V; Martin, A (2011) Beyond the vertical? Using value chains and governance as a framework to analyse private standards initiatives in agri-food chains, AGR HUM VALUES, 28, pp.427-441 doi: 10.1007/s10460-009-9237-2

Presentations (to download the presentations see the main project website)

Plenary presentation at DFID/RIIA Procurement for Development Forum, 22nd June 2009.

Seminar in Joint Development Economics Seminar Series, School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester, 2nd March 2010. Exploring the Politics of Private Standards in Kenyan High Value Horticulture.

Seminar at Aston University, ESRC Seminar Series, Collaborative Futures, 22 June 2010.

DSA Business and Development Study Group Conference, University of Leeds, 28 June 2010.

ESRC-funded seminar, The Global Politics of Rural Development in Sub-Saharan Africa, 14 September 2010.

Pathways of Power in African Agri-Food Chains, presentation at STEPS Conference 2010: Pathways to Sustainability, September 2010 (STEPS Centre: Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability)

Project Flyer

The Politics of Private Standards (POPS)

More information

More information on the activities undertaken (focus groups, key informant interviews, series of expert workshops in Kenya, presentations, and feedback events), reports and slides are available at the main project website:

For further information from NRI contact Valerie Nelson: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or Adrienne Martin, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Dr Anne Tallontire can be contacted via the main project website.

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