Producer agency in certification schemes: challenges and opportunities


On Wednesday, 20 January a webinar discussed the challenges and impacts of the lack of small-scale producer voice and agency in certification schemes, and ways to more meaningfully promote such voice and agency in standards setting worldwide.

Last updated 8 February 2021
Three people walking and carrying bags on their backs.

Fair trade coffee growers in Tacuba, El Salvador (Photo: Adam Baker via FlickrCC BY 2.0)

An initiative led by IIED is generating lessons on how rural producers, their associations and wider communities can best empower themselves to articulate their development priorities, make informed choices and negotiate effectively for equitable partnerships with progressive private sector actors in commercial agriculture.

The vast majority of voluntary certification organisations fail to include producers in their governance. In addition, some companies are moving to ‘first-party’ (i.e. their own) certification schemes in response to perceived ‘failures’ of existing third-party schemes, which risks further diminishing producer voice and agency, while strengthening corporate control.

There are a whole host of possible consequences of a lack of producer voice and agency in standards’ governance, including an inappropriateness of standards, verification and auditing for local contexts and realities – ultimately undermining livelihoods and the credibility of sustainability certification.

This online event shared and debated experiences around some of the challenges and impacts of a lack of small-scale producer voice and agency in certification schemes for smallholder producers, as well as some of the ways in which certification schemes, producer organisations are looking to more meaningfully promote producer voice and agency in standards setting worldwide.

This event was designed for rural producer organisations, private sector, civil society, development agencies and certification bodies.


An introduction to the topic with perspectives from the panellists was followed by a facilitated discussion among webinar participants. The panellists considered questions of interest to practitioners working on similar issues in different contexts such as:

  • How can producer voices be better ‘heard’ in the governance of voluntary certification mechanisms and their agency promoted?
  • What conditions need to be in place for their voices to be heard and agency promoted?
  • What challenges are likely to arise, and how can they be addressed?
  • What lessons can be learnt from various schemes and ‘best practices’ replicated among them?

Event coverage

You can watch a video recording of the presentations from the event below and on IIED's YouTube channel.

Jerónimo Pruijn and Nelson Camilo Melo Maya delivered presentations during the webinar, and they are available on IIED's SlideShare site.

IIED's Thierry Berger and Emma Blackmore wrote the blog 'Producer agency and voice in certification schemes' about the webinar, exploring how to genuinely promote producer voice and agency in standards setting worldwide. 

About the speakers

Dr Elizabeth Bennett is associate professor of international affairs and director of political economy at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. She holds a PhD in political science from Brown University and a MALD (Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy) focused on political economy and development from The Fletcher School at Tufts University. She is currently working on ethical issues in cannabis (marijuana) supply chains, sustainability certifications, fair trade, workers’ rights, income inequality, globalised supply chains and textile manufacturing.

Marike de Peña is director and co-founder of Banelino, a banana cooperative in the Dominican Republic and member of Fairtrade International Standards Committee representing farmers on behalf of CLAC, the network that represents all organisations certified as “Fairtrade” in Latin America and the Caribbean. She previously held chair positions at Fairtrade International and at CLAC (2012-18). CLAC co-owns the Fairtrade International system.

Jerónimo Pruijn is executive director of SPP and has a Master’s degree in anthropology. He has lived in Mexico for nearly 30 years. He began his work with fair trade at the end of the 1980s. He represented CLAC in the Fairtrade International Standards Committee from 2007-13. SPP is an intercontinental network of organisations of small organic producers, owner of an independent and accessible certification system for sustainable production, democratic organisation, fair trade and self-management. SPP is based in Mexico City and has a presence in 50 countries of producers and consumers.

Nelson Camilo Melo Maya is chair of the board of directors of Símbolo de Pequeños Productores (SPP) Global 2018-2021.

About the series

This was the sixth in a series of events organised under the IIED-led Empowering Producers in Commercial Agriculture (EPIC) project.

EPIC is funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office through its Commercial Agriculture for Smallholders and Agribusiness (CASA) programme, though the views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the UK government. CASA seeks to increase economic opportunities for smallholders by demonstrating the commercial viability of businesses with significant smallholder supply chains and attracting more investment into the sector.

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