4.1. Biodiversity Criteria, Coverage, and Proximity to Biodiversity Hotspots
shows descriptive statistics of the stringency scores (the average, the highest, and the lowest score per indicator) based on data from the SSI report. RSB is ranked highest most often, while the Global Coffee Platform (4C) and Cotton Made in Africa are ranked lower. As noted, we do not treat this as an indicator of success. Indeed, GCP’s score mirrors its ambition to be a baseline standard, and CmiA’s score is consistent with its ambition to be focused on social and developmental issues. Across the issue areas, RSB and IFOAM have the most aligned and have the most stringent biodiversity criteria for biodiversity protection.
reports the average stringency scores for all VSS organizations across the nine BIICPs in Table 3
. Table 4
presents the descriptive statistics for standard-compliant area and proximity to biodiversity hotspots and network relationships. The VSS organizations for which we miss network indicators are ranked for other indicators.
Overall, VSS organizations with a higher standard compliant area are most active in countries with biodiversity hotspots. We can therefore assume that VSS organizations with a larger coverage in terms of hectares will also matter for biodiversity.
Comparing the scores for standard stringency and standard-compliant areas in biodiversity hotspots suggests that some of the VSS organizations with more stringent standards are also active near biodiversity hotspots, in particular the members of IFOAM, as well as RSPO and Utz. In network terms, we would expect these VSS organizations to prove interesting organizations to link up to, offering both potential impacts as well as varied expertise and experience in terms of promoting biodiversity. An interesting outlier on this list is BCI, with a relatively less stringent standard, but a high proximity to hotspots.
Throughout this study, we must critically ask ourselves whether IFOAM, as the head organization of the organics movement, has a similar status as a transnational organization as the other VSS, in terms of its governing capacity relative to its national chapter organizations. We have reason to believe that much of the politically significant “action” when it comes to organics may take place elsewhere, in comparison to the head organizations of Utz, Rainforest Alliance, and RSPO.
The data by Tayleur et al. [11
] confirm this, but add interesting commodity-specific insights. Palm oil certified data (including RSPO’s), for instance, position certified areas concentrated in Indonesia and Malaysia, particularly in areas closer to towns and with lower levels of poverty. In biodiversity terms, these areas, compared to non-certified areas, have higher levels of tree loss, and lower coverages of IBAs and protected areas. Coffee and cocoa (the core commodities for Utz, and significant commodities for IFOAM), are certified across Asia, Africa, and Latin Americas in areas relevant for birds, more than in areas that are not certified. For coffee, in particular, areas also included high conservation areas for birds and mammals, more than non-certified areas. Certified tea (also a commodity certified by Utz and covered by IFOAM) production may occur in Asia, Africa, and Latin America in areas with amphibians, and in the study, is more associated with greater protected area coverage than areas without certification. In sum, geographic data shows that VSS organizations with stringent biodiversity policies have certified practices relevant for protected areas, high conservation value areas, birds, mammals, and amphibians. Their policies and activities are therefore geared towards impact on these issues.
4.2. Network Analysis Results
We proceed to describe the VSS organization networks for the four different types of relationships (see Section 3.3
). We do so in a non-technical way. For a more elaborate description of the data manipulation and social network techniques applied, we refer the reader to Fransen, Schalk, and Auld [5
], because the data structure for the networks is the same.
The networks are shown in Figure 2
. In all three networks, each node represents an organization. Nodes with more ties are proportionately larger. The type of organization (VSS organization, Non-profit Private, Business, or Government and Politics) is represented by a specific color, according to the legend. When the edge weight is higher—meaning that a tie between two organizations has a higher value—the tie is proportionately thicker in Figure 2
b Variation in edge weights only exists for the meta-governance networks. Recall that a link in the meta-governance network constitutes the number of shared memberships. Thus, organizations can have a stronger weighted tie if they share memberships of more meta-governance institutions. In contrast, because of our coding strategy (see Section 3.3
), a partnership or a reference either exists or it does not, and thus has no weight. Compared to the other two networks, the meta-governance network is relatively dense (many of the ties between actors that could theoretically exist, actually do exist). This is because a tie between all pairs of organizations is created that are a member of a single meta-governance institution. With a substantial number of member organizations in each institution, the network shows a high level of density overall (in Figure 2
b, roughly represented by the different clusters or ‘clouds’). Apart from Figure 2
, Table 3
provides the number of ties each of the 11 VSS organizations in our sample has in each of the networks, or their ‘degree centrality’ ([10
], p. 178). For the meta-governance network, degree centrality is computed as the sum over all tie values, thus taking into account the edge weights. For all three networks, the higher an organization’s centrality, the higher its structural prominence.
A number of tentative interpretations can be derived from Figure 2
. First of all, the different networks show different levels of activity, and specific central organizations. The partnership network is relatively sparse, which is most likely a consequence of the effort required: VSS organizations must choose their partners strategically because, due to resources’ constraints, it is likely that VSS organizations can only establish a limited number of partnerships. We assume that partnering among VSS organizations can be substantively meaningful, assuring information exchange and building trust, which could be used for collective action purposes [5
]. Table 3
shows that GCP and BCI have the most partnerships.
The meta-governance network is relatively dense, but one can question to what extent information exchange actively takes place within each dyad (i.e., pair of organizations). After all, among many of the meta-governance initiatives we studied, substantive exchange and coordination among policy-makers is expected, but not required. Policy-makers from VSS organizations and other governance organizations may not meet [5
]. In this network, Rainforest Alliance, Utz, and Roundtable on Responsible Soy have most shared memberships with other organizations. At the same time, a number of VSS organizations not in the core sample of 11 are central in this network, namely Global Gap, ProTerra, and FSC. Finally, the most active ‘referencers’ are FLO and RSPO.
Second, it appears that more stringent and active VSS organizations are not necessarily more central in the three networks. Recall that IFOAM, RSPO, and Utz are, overall, the most stringent and active (in the stringency percentage, hectares, and activity near biodiversity hotspots). When we look at IFOAM, we observe in Table 3
that it is not central in any of the three networks, compared to the other VSS. This is notable, and signals that the organics movement is in terms of its policy ideas, partners, and employment pool, in a class of its own relative to the other, more mainstream business focused VSS. It also signals that collective action among VSS that includes the organics movement may be harder, also with regard to biodiversity objectives.
RSPO is most central in the reference network, but ranks lower in the other three. Utz is perhaps the most noticeable VSS organizations: Although it ranks lower than IFOAM and RSPO on the biodiversity indicators overall, it is very central in the meta-governance network, and moderately central in the partnership network. A possible contender for Utz in this sense is BCI, which is an interesting outlier in terms of stringency and activity—with a relatively less stringent standard, but a high proximity to hotspots and a dominant role in terms of centrality in the employment ties and partnerships and collaboration networks. The Tayleur et al. data does not cover cotton, which is why we are not able to provide more context on geography here regarding BCI.
Next, we explore the network positions of IFOAM, RSPO, and Utz for the significance of their ties to other organizations claiming to specifically address biodiversity protection in their policies. We then see that IFOAM does have a set of partnerships with international organizations relevant for biodiversity, most notably the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), unlike RSPO and Utz.
Furthermore, the three networks are characterized by quite different compositions when it comes to the types of organizations. Most evidently, VSS organizations tend to predominantly refer to government and policy organizations. Among these, the various sub units of the ILO, the Stockholm Convention, and the World Health Organization (WHO) are most popular. The dominance of government and policy partners in this network is most likely indicative of the desire of VSS organizations to legitimate their organization, and to be perceived as a reliable VSS organization regardless of their private nature. Alternatively, it could reflect an effort to be aligned with internationally recognized directives from UN agencies to leverage existing governance efforts from these agencies. Relevant for our purposes here, the links to governmental actors and international organizations within this network signal more of a “developmental” focus of the VSS, rather than a “biodiversity”-focus. Safe for the Stockholm, Rotterdam, and Ramsar convention, most IO treaties referenced seem to focus on social and economic issues reflecting more development despite their potential for biodiversity protection.
The meta-governance network is dominated by business organizations. The most important among these are IKEA, Starbucks, Unilever, Marks & Spencer, Cargill, and Mondelez International. These are significant actors for addressing biodiversity protection in global supply chains, but their linkage to VSS organizations does not imply collective biodiversity protection activities. Solidaridad, IUCN, and the WWF are relevant organizations for VSS organizations across the networks, and, especially the latter two, may prove useful partners in developing biodiversity activities.
In sum, networks of relevant actors in biodiversity protection are relatively sparse. Within the partnership network, deemed most relevant for biodiversity protection, the ties are sparser and not focused on relevant biodiversity policy-makers. Despite being the most significant VSS organization in terms of policies and standard compliant areas, IFOAM does not play a central role across these networks, but does have some relevant partnerships with the inter-governmental biodiversity policy-making world, while Utz and RSPO have mostly links to nongovernmental actors. Overall, the ties between VSS organizations and other types of organizations across the networks seem to exhibit a focus on development rather than on biodiversity protection.
Utz has recently announced a merger with Rainforest Alliance, another important VSS organization in our sample. It remains speculation what consequences this will have for Utz’s relevance for biodiversity policies, but if the present links that Rainforest Alliance has in our network analyses remain intact, then this would mean that Utz would reduce its distance towards relevant biodiversity-related organizations, such as FAO.