International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

What Kind of Space? Multi-stakeholder Initiatives and the Protection of Land Rights

International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

Volume 22, issue 2 (2015), pages 67–83

Authors: Laura Silva-Castañeda
Affiliation: Interdisciplinary Laboratory Sciences, Innovations and Societies (LISIS), Université Paris-Est, Marne-La-Vallée, France

ISSN: 0798-1759


Private and voluntary standards are forms of transnational regulation that have grown in importance over the past two decades. In the realm of sustainability standards, multi-stakeholder initiatives have become the most prevalent form because of their supposed virtues of inclusiveness and participation. Social NGOs actively participate in drawing up these sustainability standards, introducing a rights-based approach and urging companies to engage with local communities as rights holders. Yet, what changes come about ‘on the ground’? This article explores this question through an analysis of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and its impacts on land tenure conflicts. Drawing on case studies of negotiation processes in Indonesian villages, observation of RSPO international conferences and interviews with key stakeholders, this article highlights the tensions between a rights-based approach and the search for conflict resolution. Informed by pragmatic sociology, it argues that negotiation processes triggered by the RSPO imply the translation of rights and personal attachments into options that are mutually beneficial to companies and local communities. Shared interests, however, may only fall under the domain of economic interests, the main drivers of company policies. As a result, the potential outcomes of negotiations fall short of the local actors’ expectations and claims; thus subjecting RSPO to heavy criticism for not delivering on its promises to protect land rights.

View Article (PDF)