Voluntary sustainability standards (VSS) have now become a mainstream labelling instrument in global commodity chains. The main assurance instrument behind these VSS is the ‘third-party’ audit. At the same time, these VSS adhere to a ‘meta-standard’, which sets requirements for VSS. The meta-standard aims to attest that these VSS have achieved a certain level of integrity. The VSS and the meta-standard are both multi-stakeholder organizations that operate alongside international global commodities stretching for example, from rural production sites in West Africa to the end consumers in the global north.
This research project aims to open the ‘black-box’ of the dominant oversight configuration in global commodity chains. The oversight configuration is studied by taking a closer look at the standard development process, i.e.: which actors are defining what needs to be controlled for and at what level of the supply chain. As well as how control is enacted -who is controlling who and where. Therefore, the overarching research question is: How is the oversight configuration of VSS in the cocoa sector arranged, what are the consequences of this and what are the possibilities for improvement?
This research focuses on the cocoa sector, since cocoa certification has seen a fast adoption in the main cocoa producing countries and major consumer brands in the global north have made commitments towards 100% certified supply chains. Moreover, VSS active in cocoa are also present in other sectors such as coffee and bananas. Hence, this thesis aims to contribute to the overall understanding of how the oversight configuration in global commodity chains is currently arranged. Only by understanding how it functions and which actors are involved in its definition, implementation and delivery improvements to the instrument can be identified to have better results.