Friday, May 11, 2018

Tim Bartley's "Rules without Rights"

Tim Bartley is Professor of Sociology at Washington University in St. Louis, and studies globalization, regulation, and social movements. He applied thePage 99 Test” to his new book, Rules without Rights: Land, Labor, and Private Authority in the Global Economy, and reported the following:
On page 99, you’ll read about the troubled and controversial attempts to make the Indonesian timber industry more sustainable. There has been an explosion of interest in corporate sustainability and social responsibility, and yet we know very little about what this means on the ground. Rules without Rights tries to change that by comparing land and labor standards as they are put into practice in newly democratic Indonesia and authoritarian China.

On one hand, page 99 captures only one slice of the book, which also looks at sustainability standards in China and corporate responsibility for labor conditions (especially in clothing and footwear manufacturing) in Indonesia and China.

On the other hand, page 99 captures some central themes of the book as a whole—including the risk of greenwashing/fairwashing and corporate sustainability/responsibility programs’ inability to deal with contentious land and labor rights (such as the rights of indigenous people to control rural land or the rights of workers to form independent labor unions).

The page begins with the story of how giant pulp and paper companies—Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) and Asia Pacific Resources International (APRIL)—sought to use the logo of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the leading multi-stakeholder sustainable forestry initiative, to greenwash their image. The vast majority of their operations could not meet the FSC’s standards, but they engaged in several projects that they hoped would allow them to use the “FSC-Mixed” label on some paper products. This was an important and controversial moment for the FSC, which clamped down on some of these sorts of projects while still working to expand the market for certified paper.
In sum, the big pulp and paper companies were not prepared to abandon their harvesting practices, but they did navigate the margins of FSC certification in search of sustainability assurances. The FSC and its constituents, in turn, further policed these margins to retain their credibility, especially when prompted by external scrutiny. As theorized in the previous chapter, the rigor of transnational private regulation depends in part on scrutiny from external and internal watchdogs.
Page 99 then transitions into a focus on land rights, which turn out to be incredibly contentious in Indonesia:
FSC standards [and many other sustainability initiatives] call for stable, clear, and legitimate land use rights, but in several ways the rights to use forest land in Indonesia are unstable, overlapping, and contentious. First, because there were sizable incentives to convert forested land into oil palm plantations, forests were in a real sense fleeting—and whatever premiums might be gained by getting certified were far too low to reverse this trend. The Indonesian government began supporting fast-growing oil palm plantations in the 1980s by helping foreign investors secure land in “frontier” areas, often suppressing or displacing local smallholders.
In addition to palm oil development, forest land in Indonesia was often subject to competing claims—from different government agencies, different permit holders, and by both companies and indigenous communities who claimed customary rights to land. These customary rights were symbolically endorsed by the Indonesian constitution but practically nullified by the Forestry Law. This created a difficult situation for sustainability certification and a problem that this tool has largely failed to resolve. Here you can see one meaning of the title, Rules without Rights.
Learn more about Rules without Rights at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue