When Governance Gets Going: Certifying ‘Better Cotton’ and ‘Better Sugarcane’


  • Adam Sneyd

  • The author wishes to thank Jennifer Clapp, Daniel Drache, Matthew Eagleton-Pierce, Derek Hall, Matias E. Margulis, Stefano Ponte, Ben Richardson, Jan Aart Scholte, Timothy M. Shaw and Lauren Q. Sneyd. The helpful comments and suggestions of the referees are gratefully acknowledged.


As many new certification systems for commodities have been established over the past decade, scholars have devoted sustained attention to the ways that these multi-stakeholder governance initiatives have transformed the industries in which they were launched. With a few notable exceptions, studies in this area have continued to focus on the development and impacts of new governance mechanisms, and on the sectoral or industrial changes that have ensued. In contrast to these ‘inside-out’ perspectives on governance innovation and change, this article considers how two prominent yet relatively under-studied commodity governance initiatives have been shaped by the broader political economic order in which they operate. To offer an ‘outside-in’ account of the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) and Bonsucro (formerly the Better Sugarcane Initiative), the article details recent changes in what the author terms the ‘world commodity order’, and situates the BCI and Bonsucro within this order. From this vantage point, the author ultimately makes two analytical claims: (i) that the world commodity order has not precluded the differential institutionalization of these initiatives; and (ii) that aspects of the order have circumscribed the potential of the BCI and Bonsucro to deliver pro-poor business practices.