Agri-food, private governance and sustainability: a cosmopolitan global framework

Nada Kakabadse, Jose Alcaraz, Agni Kalfagianni, Nevis Ellis , Katerina Nicolopoulou, Nadeem Khan

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Most of the key activities associated with the agri-food industry (e.g. producing, processing, distributing, retailing and consuming food) have worldwide impact and depend on global inter-dependencies (Lang and Ingram 2014; Kahiluotoa et al 2014). As outlined by Sachs (2015) the energy and gas emissions linked to agriculture are major contributors to climate change and, relatedly, to ocean acidification; the nitrogen used in fertilizers is altering key biogeochemical flows; overuse of water, rampant deforestation and land clearance for pastures are fundamentally altering the-land system change, and dramatically accelerating biodiversity loss; the agri-food industry complex is also associated with new risks and the release of novel entities (e.g. SARS). If solutions at a global scale are to be found for “our cultivated planet” (Foley et al, 2012; Carr et al, 2016) it seems clear that there is no “silver bullet” but there is need to put in place multiple fronts of action, at multiple levels (local, regional and global), for example, to address deforestation, maximize efficiency to grow more on existing farms, develop new technologies (e.g. to increase cropping efficiency), shift diets and reduce waste (Foley, 2014).
Embracing the global lens of the studies referred above, the (social-sciences based) scholarly tradition of Cosmopolitanism offers important insights to address key cultural, ethical and governance aspects of the agri-food industry. Cosmopolitanism (Levy et al, 2016), which can be characterized by the old saying "I am a citizen of the world", nurtures a moral stance and a planetary "geographical imagination" that aims to bypass the categories associated with the nation-state (Jazeel, 2011). It celebrates cultural and biological diversity, it radically acknowledges inter-dependence and expanded notions of responsibility, and seeks new mechanisms of governance, transparency and accountability (Guibernau, 2001). Ultimately, a Cosmopolitan sensitivity aims to address challenges of a global nature that require global citizenship, global responsibility, and global solutions (Alcaraz et al, 2016; Boyaciger, 2010).
The "global picture" put forward by Cosmopolitanism suggests the need not only to examine critically the neo-liberal control of global food chains (by increasingly fewer and larger players), but also to understand global risks (e.g. genetic modification, chemical pesticides, bio-engineering, etc), and to question narrow conceptions, prevalent in the agri-food industry, around “global sustainability” “sustainable development” and “sustainable performance”.
In this paper we outline a Cosmopolitan framework (grounded on cultural, ethical and governance angles) to examine critically and to provide elements of guidance for the agri-food industry’s engagement with private governance and sustainability. Global agri-food governance (the rules and institutions that govern the production, trade, and marketing of food and agriculture) nowadays influences significant activities in the overall agri-food chain (Fuchs et al., 2011; Kalfagianni, 2015). In particular, and as those authors claim, private governance institutions in the form of private standards and certification schemes (e.g. the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, Rainforest Alliance, Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification, Fairtrade International, International Coral Reef Initiative, Food Ethics Council and many others) are gaining significant track. As such, they contain multiple promising elements in the search for global sustainability.
In this paper we propose an engagement with cosmopolitanism, in order to provide and evaluative framework and a global sustainability “index” (with local, regional and international “lenses”) to approach the role of corporate actors and private governance arrangements, in their quest for sustainability. Our proposal helps to examine key issues on cultural human and ecological diversity, that is, to engage more meaningfully with identity, sense of place, heritage, etc, in ways that help us celebrate and preserve the richness and cultural values of 'nature' (food, land, water) in its transformation towards food production. Our framework also facilitates the evaluation of crucial ethical issues (e.g. interdependence, inclusiveness, distribution and justice), and outlines governance mechanisms (e.g. fostering expanded responsibility and accountability) to support the private agri-food governance quest for global sustainability.
Beyond mere conceptual issues our work offers practical implications (e.g. metrics) for re-organizing food security. Additionally, as in the opening quote in this abstract, we illustrate key tenets with evidence from an empirical longitudinal qualitative research on climate change, undertaken in Western Australia, a region that is considered a Global Biodiversity Hotspot (Myers et al, 2000).
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2017
Event12th Organization Studies Workshop: Food Organizing Matters: Paradoxes, Problems and Potentialities - Chania, Greece
Duration: 18 May 201720 May 2017


Conference12th Organization Studies Workshop


  • agri-food
  • sustainability
  • global framework


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