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Business and Politics

Editor-in-Chief: Aggarwal, Vinod K.

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Volume 16, Issue 1 (Apr 2014)


Who defines “local”? Resistance to harmonizing standards in ethical markets

Sara Jane McCaffrey
  • Corresponding author
  • Patricia E. Harris Center for Business, Government, and Public Policy, Franklin & Marshall College, Room 114, PO Box 3003, Lancaster, PA 17604-3003, USA
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  • Other articles by this author:
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/ Nancy Kurland
  • Patricia E. Harris Center for Business, Government, and Public Policy, Franklin & Marshall College, Room 112, PO Box 3003, Lancaster, PA 17604-3003, USA
  • Other articles by this author:
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Published Online: 2013-12-14 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/bap-2012-0026


Standards for “ethical” goods provide activists and mission-driven producers with opportunities to clarify decisions for so-called “ethical consumers” and spur growth in these new markets. But certification schemes also raise monitoring challenges, and may confuse consumers and create opportunities for cooptation by large corporate competitors. In this interview-based study, we examined the localism movement to understand why social movement leaders might resist harmonization of standards. We find that leaders define “local” in at least five ways, and argue that they resist harmonization of local for pragmatic, philosophical, and strategic reasons. We conclude that tolerance for multiple standards could be beneficial for core activists in market-oriented social movements. If and when these groups turn more systematically to the political system, maintaining loose and multiple standards may impede policy success. The “buy local” case suggests, however, that as long as the market remains activists’ primary mechanism for social change, decentralized governance and multiple standards in ethical markets allow activists to maintain a powerful voice in defining ethical products and business practices.


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About the article

Corresponding author: Sara Jane McCaffrey, Patricia E. Harris Center for Business, Government, and Public Policy, Franklin & Marshall College, Room 114, PO Box 3003, Lancaster, PA 17604-3003, USA, e-mail:

Published Online: 2013-12-14

Published in Print: 2014-04-01

Sikavica and Pozner (2013).

Nicholls and Opal (2004); Weber, Heinze and DeSoucey (2008).

Cashore (2002); Low and Davenport (2009).

Renard (2005); Green (2007); Sikavica and Pozner (2013).

Martinez (2010).

Hess (2009).

Meuwissen et al. (2003: p. 172); Schmitz (2004: p. 58). First-party certification relies on self-monitoring and has the least credibility. Second-party certification relies either on the user of the product/service to monitor or on trade bodies who monitor on behalf of their members. Third party certifiers have the highest credibility. They “transfer monitoring to neutral and independent auditors.”

Bartley (2010); Brown (2011).

Cashore (2002); Green (2007).

See Winham (2009); Schouten and Glasbergen (2011).

Bartley (2010).

For a discussion of ethical products, see Crane (2001).

Green (2007); Sikavica and Pozner (2013).

Sikavica and Pozner (2013).

Sternfeld (2009); Jaffee and Howard (2010).

Cashore (2002).

André (2012).

Brown (2013).

Nussbaum and Simula (2005).

Bartley (2010); Locke and Romis (2010); Locke (2013).

Janssen and Hamm (2011: p. 9).

Culpepper (2010).

Ecowatch (2012).

See also Allen and Kovach (2000); Guthman (2004).

Jaffee (2012: p. 110).

Trumpy (2008); Bartley (2010).

Hatanaka, Bain, and Busch (2005: p. 12); Fuchs, Kalfagianni, and Havinga (2011).

Taylor (2005); Cashore et al. (2007); Bacon (2010); Bartley (2010).

Taylor (2005).

Jaffee and Howard (2010).

Doherty, Davies, and Tranchell (2013).

Reinecke, Manning, and Von Hagen (2012: p. 791).

Doherty, Davies, and Tranchell (2013: p. 180).

Golding (2009).

Jaffee and Howard (2010: p. 10).

Sikavica and Pozner (2013: p. 16).

The grass-fed beef movement, a much smaller niche that succeeded in creating a clearly defined and coherent culture (see Weber and Matthews 2008), is one example. The American Grassfed Association (AGA) lobbied for years for creation of US federal standards for their niche, but the regulations adopted in 2009 were so diluted that the AGA launched a private certification scheme with more rigorous criteria. See http://www.americangrassfed.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/AGA-Benefits-One-Pager.pdf (accessed 11/6/13).

See, for example, Benford and Snow (2000).

Kurland, McCaffrey, and Hill (2012).

See Eisenhardt (1989), on the benefits of beginning with a general research question.

A research assistant compiled this spreadsheet for us. She visited each website (BALLE, AMIBA, and Food Routes) and found the list of organizations involved. If a link to the organization’s website was provided she went to the website this way. If it was not, she searched for the affiliate’s official website. Many times this was successful but several organizations either did not have a website or the website was currently unavailable. More details on her data collection process available by request from the first author.

See Strauss and Corbin (1998/1990: p. 136) and Guest, Bunce, and Johnson (2006: p. 65).

We spoke with leaders from the following states: Food Routes BFBLs and related – CA (1), IA (1), PA (5), WV (1), VA (1); BALLE SBNs – AK (1), CA (2), CO (1), IA (1), IN (1), MA (2), NY (2), OR (1), PA (4), WA (1); AMIBA IBAs – CA (1), CO (2), IL (1), KY (1), LA (1), MA (1), MI (1), MN (2), NH (1), OR (1), PA (1), TX (2).

Guba (1981); Leininger (1985); Kreftig (1991).

May (1989); cited in Kreftig (p. 218).

Hess (2009: p. 153).

Ingram and Rao (2004); Hess (2009).

Strom (2013).

Hess (2009).

http://www.foodroutes.org/bfbl-chapternetworkaffiliates.jsp# chapternetwork affiliate-list (accessed 6/17/11).

Hinrichs and Allen (2008).

http://www.buylocalpa.org/glossary (accessed 4/30/13).

http://www.amiba.net/find-iba (accessed 6/17/11).

http://www.amiba.net/about_ibas (accessed 4/30/13).

Hollender and Fenichell (2004).

http://www.livingeconomies.org/netview (accessed 6/17/11).

http://bealocalist.org/local-business-criteria (accessed 4/30/21012).

Hinrichs and Allen (2008); Weber and Matthews (2008); Desrochers and Shimizu (2012).

Winter (2003).

Kurland and McCaffrey (2013).

See http://www.10percentshift.org/design/localshift.php (accessed 5/15/13).

Hallstein and Villas-Boas (2009).

Brown (2013).

See Johnson, Aussenberg, and Cowan (2012).

Park and Gomez (2010).

Gunther (2009); Mitchell (2009); Tepper (2012).

Enforcement efforts vary: In California, state regulation requires third party verification for farmers’ market vendors. However, this is government-sponsored, and not driven by FRN. See http://www.cafarmersmarkets.com/index2.html (accessed 4/30/13).

On strategic ambiguity, see Eisenberg (1984). On pragmatic ambiguity, see Giroux (2006).

Doherty, Davies, and Tranchell (2013).

Janssen and Hamm (2011).

Hinrichs (2003).

Hatanaka, Bain, and Busch (2005).

Guthman (2008).

Johnson, Aussenberg, and Cowan (2012).

Green (2007); Sikavica and Pozner (2013).

Sikavica and Pozner (2013).

Jaffee (2012: p. 209).

Sikavica and Pozner (2013: p. 24).

Eisenberg (1984); Giroux (2006).

See Wirth, Stanton, and Wiley (2011).

Jaffee (2012); Sikavica and Pozner (2013).

Citation Information: Business and Politics, ISSN (Online) 1469-3569, ISSN (Print) 1369-5258, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/bap-2012-0026.

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