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Reports 16 Nov 2011

Signed, Sealed… Delivered?

Behind Certifications and Beyond Labels

By Patrin Watanatada and Heather Mak

Signed, Sealed… Delivered? explores the value and challenges that businesses find in using certification and labelling as tools to improve economic, environmental and social outcomes across global value chains.

Certification, labeling and the standards-setting organizations behind them have been pioneers in building a more sustainable economy. For businesses, they provide a credible, consensus-set reference point for collective action, access to expertise and networks, and can spur demand for certified or labeled goods. But the very traits — governance and inclusiveness — that make consensus-based standards so useful as credible mechanisms for collective action also pose challenges for businesses seeking to move quickly and to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. And like any tool, certification and labeling have limits — including limits to scale.

We conclude that there is a need to deconstruct and evolve the old model that combines standards, certification and on-pack marks. Instead we urge a shift towards a new model based upon increasingly demanding and pre-competitive standards, above which brands compete, collaborate and partner with civil society to transform supply chains and consumer norms and behavior, and where civil society and government evolve more effective and efficient ways of holding business accountable.

Please join the debate by commenting here on what you believe needs to happen next. Or join the conversation on Twitter @SustAbility #beyondlabels.

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