Multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSI) claim to make production of commodities more socially and environmentally sustainable by regulating their members and through systems of certification. These claims, however, are highly contested. In this article, I examine how actors use MSI regulation with regard to land conflicts with a focus on the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). MSIs are a resource that actors in land conflicts can use to generate evidence that gives them leverage in their negotiations. To do so, actors employ the interrelations between two kinds of land conflict: localized land conflicts between local land users, and disputes between more distant actors over aggregated land-use related to the sustainability of palm oil production. To demonstrate this, I use the notion of assemblage in two case studies from Sumatra, Indonesia. Thinking in terms of assemblage allows the contradictory but interrelated practices that shape MSIs to be understood. In distinct locally embedded processes, actors enact MSIs in contexts of unequal power relations, from which MSI governance emerges. The way in which access to an MSI is distributed among contending actors shapes MSI enactments and thus its governance. The unequal distribution of access to the RSPO results in a governance that favors companies over communities.
- private governance