The Post-state Staples Economy: The Impact of Forest Certification as a nsmd (nsmd) Governance System

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Chapter XIV: “The Post-state Staples Economy: The Impact of Forest Certification as a NSMD (NSMD) Governance System” – Benjamin Cashore (Yale), Graeme Auld, James Lawson, and Deanna Newsom1


Virtually all of the literature on Canada as a “staples state” has focused on two related topics: the impact of a historically staples-based economy on the development of the Canadian state’s structure, function and policy outcomes; and, given these historical influences, the ability and capacity state officials might have to veer Canada off this “hinterland” pathway by facilitating a more diversified and industrialized Canadian economy less dependent on the US “metropole”. While these foci are important, the dramatic arrival in the 1990s of Non-State Market Driven (NSMD) governance systems that focus largely on regulating staples extracting sectors such as forestry, fisheries, and mining, has raised three important questions for students of the staples state. First, what impact do non-state forms of governance have on the ability of state actors to promote the development of a post-staples state? Second, can non-state forms of governance address policy problems (such as environmental and social regulations governing resource exploitation) in ways that a staples and/or post staples–state have proven unable? Third, and arguably most importantly, ought scholarship on the staples state (reviewed in Wellstead’s
Chapter) confront its underlying assumption that power and authority have a state based territorial logic? The answer to this last question deserves careful reflection – since NSMD governance systems are granted authority to create policy, in the first instance, from markets that do not conform to traditional state-centred territorial boundaries.

This chapter addresses these questions by carefully exploring the development of “forest certification”, the most advanced case of NSMD governance globally, in the Canadian forest sector. We assess support among industrial forest companies and environmental groups for creating a policy arena devoid of state authority, and the role of traditional public policy processes in influencing these evaluations. Following this introduction, a second section identifies the emergence of forest certification in its global and Canadian contexts. A third section outlines the key features of forest certification that render it a form of NSMD governance. This section identifies how certification draws on both the market’s non-territorial unit of analysis in the first instance, and then on a geographic unit of analysis for building support and specific regulations. A fourth section identifies how certification emerged in British Columbia and the Maritimes, as fierce battles between and within certification programs occurred over efforts to determine the role and scope of forest certification in regulating forest staples extraction. The chapter concludes by reflecting on the role of NSMD systems in providing a new arena in which to regulate staples extraction, and how they might intersect with traditional public policy approaches.

Emergence of Forest Certification and its Two Conceptions of Non-State Governance

A number of key trends have coalesced to produce increasing interest in NSMD governance systems generally and within forestry specifically. The first trend can be traced to the increasing attention placed on a country’s foreign markets in an effort to influence domestic policy (Risse-Kappen 1995; Keck and Sikkink 1998), a process Bernstein and Cashore (2000) refer to as internationalization.2 Market-based campaigns often deemed these easier than attempting to influence domestic and international business dominated policy networks. The second trend is the increasing interest in the use of voluntary-compliance and market mechanisms (Harrison 1999; Tollefson 1998; Prakash 1999; Gunningham, Grabosky, and Sinclair 1998; Webb 2002). At the international level Bernstein (2002) has noted that a norm complex of "liberal environmentalism" has come to permeate international environmental governance, where proposals based on traditional command and compliance "business versus environment" approaches rarely make it to the policy agenda (Esty and Geradin 1998). In this context, Speth (2002) and others have argued that business-government and business-environmental group partnerships have created the most innovative and potentially rewarding solutions to addressing massive global environmental problems. A third trend can be traced to increased concern beginning in the 1980s among environmental groups and the general public about tropical forest destruction. Boycotts were launched, and a number of forest product retailers, such as B&Q in the UK, Ikea in Sweden, and Home Depot in the US, paid increasing attention to understanding better the sources of their fiber and whether their products were harvested in an environmentally friendly manner. The final trend favoring an interest in NSMD environmental governance in the forest sector can be traced to the failure of the Earth Summit in 1992 to sign a global forest convention (Humphreys 1996). Indeed, participation in the forestry PrepComs for the Rio Summit led many officials from the world's leading environmental NGOs to believe that Rio would either produce no convention or a convention that would look more like a "logging charter."

Two Conceptions of Forest Certification

By 1992, ongoing frustration with domestic and international public policy approaches to global forest deterioration created an arena ripe for a private sector approach. But unlike voluntary self-regulating programs in which business took the initiative in their creation (Prakash1999), transnational environmental groups took the lead in creating certification institutions. In the case of forestry, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) spearheaded a coalition of environmental and socially concerned environmental groups, who joined with select retailers, governmental officials, and a handful of forest company officials to create the international Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Officially formed in 1993, the FSC turned to the market for rule making authority by offering forest landowners and forest companies who practiced “sustainable forestry” (in accordance with FSC policies) an environmental stamp of approval through its certification process, thus expanding the traditional “stick” approach of a boycott campaign by offering “carrots” as well.

Table. 1.2, Conceptions of forest sector NSMD certification governance systems

Table 1: Different Conceptions

Conception One

Conception Two

Who participates in rule making

Environmental and social interests participate with business interests


Rules – substantive



Rules – procedural

To facilitate implementation of substantive rules

End in itself (belief that procedural rules by themselves will result in decreased environmental impact)

Policy Scope
Broad (includes rules on labor and indigenous rights and wide ranging environmental impacts)

Narrower (forestry management rules and continual improvement)

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